Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has today (Wednesday) previewed next week's crunch vote in the Agriculture Committee on CAP Reform. The vote will set the broad shape of CAP up to 2020.
"It has been a long and tiring process negotiating these compromises but I believe it has been productive, and we in the Agriculture Committee have done a lot of good work for Europe's farmers, making the rules particularly on greening and cross compliance easier for implementation. We have also ironed out a number of the problems with the initial Commission proposals, as well as levelling the playing field for new entrants and clarifying the definition of active farmers.
"Next week's vote is a crucial stage in creating the new CAP, as it will essentially be the position of the European Parliament going into negotiations with the Member State governments in the Council. There is a further stage within the Parliament when this package goes to the full Chamber, but by and large we can only expect tinkering by that stage: next week is C-Day.
"It's, of course, never possible to exactly predict how a vote will go - for example, the opposing forces on capping of single farm payments seem evenly split - but I believe that, assuming the vast majority of compromises pass (which is usually a sure thing), we have gone some way to addressing the concerns that Scottish farmers raised with the original Commission proposal. Greening has been made more flexible with multiple ways of qualifying for it, the herbaceous" problem in defining eligible pasture has been solved, we've dealt with the slipper farmer and naked acre problems through tightening active farmer and activity rules, and new entrants should find it easier to get a level playing field in terms of entitlements through the National Reserve.
"All in all I look forward to the vote on Wednesday and Thursday."
A briefing on the background and process is below:
The Committee will vote on the four dossiers of CAP legislation designed to replace the old CAP rules when they expire at the end of this year:
direct payments (covering Single Farm Payment rules);
rural development (Pillar II programmes);
the Single CMO (market intervention rules for all agricultural sectors); and
the horizontal regulation (dealing with payment and administration systems, and cross compliance).
Most of the major issues for each file are subject to compromise amendments negotiated between the political groups.
The finalised texts after voting will then proceed to the plenary session scheduled for March. There is a possibility of amendment there, but in practice this is unusual - the full Parliament usually follows the lead of the subject committee. The package then becomes the official negotiating position of the European Parliament as the process moves into "trilateral" negotiations with the Council and Commission.
The committee will also reserve the right to revise its position if the final budget negotiations in the Council for 2014-2020 leave agriculture with a significantly reduced share of the EU budget, which would be inadequate to fund properly the CAP programmes. It may well also be necessary to craft transitional arrangements if the new legislation is not ready for 1 January 2014.
Key issues for Scottish farming include:
Greening: The committee has worked out a more flexible proposal for greening which includes less stringent rules for the three greening measures and alternative methods to qualify for greening, such as engagement in an agri-environmental scheme or in a voluntary environmental certification scheme approved by the Commission.
Active Farmer: The successful inclusion of the "Scottish clause" means that the Scottish authorities will be able to set minimum activity requirements to prevent slipper farmers from benefitting from payments.
Internal Convergence: Scotland will have more flexibility in making the transition from a historic to an area based system, with no requirements for a full transition by 2020.
New Entrants: Farmers who farmed in 2011 but who did not have an SFP entitlement will be eligible for entitlements as long as they can submit evidence of active farm production such as an IACS form.
National Reserve: A more flexible system will allow the Scottish authorities to "top up" the artificially low entitlements of new entrants through the National Reserve, and to grant entitlements to completely new entrants.
Capping: No compromise was reached on capping. Alyn Smith supports the Commission proposal for a cap on payments of over 300,000 EUR, which will only affect a small number of the wealthiest farms in Scotland but will redistribute money for rural development and for entitlements for new entrants.
Coupled Support: No compromise was reached on coupled support. Alyn Smith supports an increase in the percentage of the national envelope allocated to coupled support to 15% (from 5% in Commission proposal), allowing the creation of new schemes to maintain stocking densities and economic activity in remote and vulnerable areas.
Cross Compliance: A number of proposals in the Horizontal Regulation will make the system of control and penalties more proportionate and risk based, such as the creation of a warning system without penalty for first time non-intentional non-serious violations. There is also a clear statement that violations due to failure of technology for animal identification should not be attributed to the farmer concerned for purposes of cross compliance penalty.