Parliament divided after MEPs water down CAP reform
By Benjamin Fox
MEPs have voted to water down measures aimed at linking farm subsidies to environmental protection as part of reforms to the EU's Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).
During a marathon, two-hour voting session in Strasbourg on Wednesday (13 March), deputies decided to allocate an initial 3 percent of farmland for wildlife.
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Although this would rise to 5 percent in January 2016, it is a significant weakening of the 10 percent proposed by the European Commission. However, MEPs backed the commission's proposal to make at least 30 percent of subsidies dependent on environmental protection.
The Green group led criticism of the decision with agriculture spokesman Jose Bove describing it as being "even worse for the environment than, and just as unfair as, the current model."
MEPs "utterly failed to seize an historic opportunity to overhaul EU agricultural policy," he added.
The vote marks the first time that MEPs have enjoyed equal legislative powers with governments on the CAP, traditionally the largest single budget line for EU spending.
Speaking with reporters following the vote, Paolo De Castro, the Italian chair of the Agriculture committee, said that an intensive programme of thirty 'trialogue' meetings between MEPs and ministers would start in April.
A deal could be reached before the end of the Irish presidency in June, De Castro said.
MEPs voted on four regulations dealing with direct payments to farmers, as well as rural development and the rules governing agricultural produce.
Farm subsidies could be capped at €300,000 per farm, although critics claim that farmers could split their land administratively to increase access to funds.
MEPs also decided that no country's farmers should receive less than 65 percent of the EU average.
While the four dossiers all received majority support based on an alliance between the centre-right EPP and the Socialist group, the Liberal and Green groups led opposition to parts of the package, warning that they could return Europe to the "bad old days of food mountains."
German liberal Britta Reimers remarked that the provisions to re-establish a milk quota and to delay the phasing out of quotas on sugar production heralded a "return to failed policies of the past."
But Michel Dantin, a French centre-right deputy leading the parliament's negotiating team, said that the revised payments regime would serve as a "safety net rather than a return to the days of wine lakes and butter mountains."
Parliament also voted in favour of publishing the names of all recipients of EU money and agreed on a list of land-owners, including airports and sports clubs, to be automatically excluded from receiving subsidies unless they could prove that the land was being used for farming.
However, MEPs are still in the dark over the funding levels provisionally allocated to individual member states. Capoulas Santos said that it was a "genuine scandal" that the Parliament had been given no official figures by governments.
Although the CAP funds proposed by the Commission are set to be cut by 11 percent in the next seven year cycle, it still totals €373 billion, including €278 billion in direct subsidies.