Talks at European level to finalise the reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2023 are entering their final phase this week.

The Council of the EU will meet in its agriculture configuration (bringing together the EU’s agriculture ministers) on Wednesday (May 26) and Thursday (May 27).

Recent council meetings have seen little concrete decisions made, though the Portuguese presidency of the council has commented favourably on the tone of the negotiations so far.

The Portuguese presidency is looking to have an agreement reached in the council by the end of its term, which concludes in June.

Agreement is required on three broad issues: “targeted” direct payments and rural development interventions (the area of negotiation where convergence is discussed); the new “green architecture” (where issues around eco-scheme funding are in question); and a move to a performance-based approach to payments.

All of these issues are vital in terms of how the next CAP will look. However, there is significant interest – and concern – over the “green architecture” and particularly how much direct payment funding will be ring-fenced to fund eco-schemes.

Eco-schemes are a new addition to CAP, which will see member states design their own agri-environment schemes, in line with overarching targets set at a European level. Member states are required to submit ‘Strategic Plans’ to the European Commission outlining how they will implement their eco-schemes.

Unlike some agri-environment schemes of the past, eco-schemes will be funded through Pillar I payments, demonstrating the greater environmental and climate focus that’s been sought in the next CAP.

Speaking in the Dáil last week, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue said that it was “still not clear” how – and more specifically how much – funding from Pillar I will be set aside for eco-schemes.

There is a difference of opinion between the council and the European Parliament over what that funding should be.

The council agreed last November that 20% of Pillar I funding should go to eco-schemes. However, more recently, the European Parliament has stated that it wanted to see 30% of Pillar I funds set aside.

At the most recent meeting of agriculture ministers last month, the council addressed the possibility of gradually increasing the level of Pillar I funding for eco-schemes over the lifetime of CAP as compromise with the parliament.

At that meeting last month, Minister McConalogue expressed his opposition to either a 30% figure or a compromise approach.

“Ireland accepted 20% in the council approach, but I’m afraid we simply cannot consider the issue of the percentage allocation in isolation. There are far too many issues that are still unresolved,” he said.

The minister added: “There are changes in the direct payment envelope that farmers must contend with; convergence; redistribution; capping; [and] allocations to young farmers. We do not yet have certainty on any of these.”

The minister also defended the council’s proposal for a two-year ‘learning phase’ for the eco-schemes, arguing that without such a ‘trial period’ to ease member states into administering the new schemes, it may result in a loss of funds if not done effectively.

“In the absence of any sense that the parliament is willing to accept these flexibilities, combined with the fact that we have no resolution on the targeting proposals, I find myself unable to consider any change in the eco-scheme percentage,” Minister McConalogue said.

The reformed CAP will come into effect in 2023, after the end of the current transition period linking the previous CAP (which ended in 2020) to the next round of the policy.