Concern mounts that next CAP reform will be pushed back

Some concern is mounting over the possible need for “transitional arrangements” to be implemented ahead of the introduction of the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as deadline pressures loom over Brussels.

Although the current CAP is not due to expire until December 31, 2020, under the new CAP reform proposals, member states must submit their individual CAP strategic plans to the European Commission by January 1, 2020.

However, member states will not be able to fully focus on their CAP strategic plans until the regime for the post-2020 CAP reform proposals is agreed between all three European institutions – the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Council.

Given that this will be a new process, and given the level of work involved in drafting such strategic plans – with “tailor-made” programmes that respond to farmers’ and wider rural communities’ concerns – questions are emerging as to whether member states will have enough time to complete submissions within the time frame.

In the event that an agreement is not reached, or there is an agreement but there is insufficient time for member states to draft their strategic plans, it is understood that the current CAP programme for 2014-2020 would still apply.

It is also worth noting that any decision to roll over the current CAP programme may be impacted by the nature of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

So, apart from Brexit – which is not part of the CAP reform proposals but undoubtedly overshadows conversations on the future of farming in the EU – what are the main sticking points during the ongoing deliberations in Brussels?

‘Reasonable concern’

Speaking to AgriLand, Fine Gael MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, said there is “reasonable concern” over the timeline at parliament level where the draft proposals currently reside.

Key issues that are proving contentious in discussions at the moment include: the proposed capping of direct payments; extra conditionality around the basic income support scheme; the introduction of a new stream of eco-schemes funded from members states’ direct payment budgets under Pillar I; and proposals for the CAP’s future “green architecture“.

In order for the process to run smoothly, the parliamentary committees working on the plans must vote on the proposals no later than March.

The parliamentary report should then be put to vote at plenary stage in Strasbourg in April. This is where the commission, representatives of political groups and individual MEPs will also have an opportunity to express their views.

Ideally, the vision is that it would all be signed off on before the European Elections in May of this year.

However, even at that, the newly-elected parliament would not be in place until July 1, 2019, with the election followed by a recess in August. It is also understood that a new commission would not be sworn in until closer to the year end – generally around October or November.

At this rate, the final details of the proposals for the new CAP – due to kick in from January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2027, – may not be thrashed out fully between the three institutions until the end of 2019 or early 2020.

‘Challenging’

When asked if everything under the new CAP-reform proposals will be ready for implementation by 2020, McGuinness said: “I think it is quite difficult to see that happening.

“We should try to achieve as much as we can and then, if we don’t, what are the transitional arrangements? That would be up to the commission to come up with proposals.

“I think there is a huge amount of work going on within groups and across political groups, to try and get a consensus in the EU Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on the way forward on CAP reform.

“But, there are a number of areas, including the green architecture and capping, that for some member states are controversial. That work is ongoing,” said the Midlands-North West representative.

On paper there is sufficient time to get it through committee and the plenary. But in practice, I think the rapporteurs are finding it quite challenging to get agreement on a lot of the issues.

“Based on past experience of the last reform, these things usually take longer than we first anticipated because of the complexity and the different view.

“So, I wouldn’t rule out that we will get it through plenary in April. But, the more I talk to others in the house, across the political group, there is huge concern around pushing it through under time pressure with more of an emphasis on saying ‘it’s better to get it right, rather than getting it on time’.”

‘Slippy’

Meanwhile, speaking last month at the Irish Farmers’ Association’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), Minister Creed also weighed in on concern over the launch of the next CAP programme.

“I think it’s highly unlikely that the current CAP will be ready to go at the end of 2020. I think that’s realistically the situation now.

That makes it all the more important that we have a transition. But the commission’s approach is to keep the foot to the floor now, rather than give any indication that that timeline isn’t achievable.

“We’re acutely aware of the requirement for a roll-over and certainly we’ll be keeping that in mind as perhaps it becomes more apparent to the commission that the timeline is slippy.

“There is provision for roll-over, I think, for a period of up to three years under the regulations; but it would be at funding at current levels – so it could continue to fund schemes at their current levels,” the minister said.

CLASSIFIED ADVERTS