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15th Dec 2019

Five east European states prevent new CAP consensus

  • Bulgarian minister of agriculture Rumen Porodzanov was unable to convince his colleagues from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia to support a joint declaration. (Photo: Pixabay)

Agriculture ministers were unable to reach consensus on a declaration on the future of the common agriculture policy at a meeting in Brussels on Monday (19 March) - the greatest area of discord being the distribution of subsidies.

Bulgarian minister of agriculture Rumen Porodzanov was unable to convince his colleagues from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia to support a joint declaration.

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However, he noted at a press conference afterwards that agreement by 23 out of 28 member states was not bad.

"In no case would I say that today's adoption of 'presidency conclusions' is disappointing," said Porodzanov, referring to the formal name of the declaration taken.

The text would have been called 'council conclusions' if it had been unanimously supported. It summarises the response of farming ministers to a European Commission strategy paper presented by the commission last November.

According to Porodzanov, the disagreement of the five central and eastern member states related to how agriculture subsidies are divided between member states.

"There is a difference between the average amount paid per hectare, a difference which comes into play when we talk about 'new' and 'old' member states," said the Bulgarian minister.

The average amount paid is generally higher in the – mostly western – member states that were in the EU before 2004. This reflects the substantial differences in average salaries and purchasing power that continue to exist within the EU.

Porodzanov noted that the five wanted fully equal subsidies across the bloc, something called "full external convergence" in EU-speak.

"I of course understand very well the member states who demanded this because they are responsible to their agriculture community," he said.

"They have to face their own community and explain these points so their position is not a surprise to us," he noted.

However, the five were not able to support the final compromise paragraph, which read that ministers "[recognised] the different views of member states on the subject of external convergence of direct payments".

The EU's agriculture commissioner, Irishman Phil Hogan, said that a text supported by 23 member states was "a very good outcome".

"It is a pity that ministers were unable to show the necessary flexibility to have unanimity," he added.

It depends on the budget

The commissioner noted that the future of the agriculture subsidies relied on the outcome of negotiations on the EU's multi-annual financial framework (MFF), which in turn depends on whether member states are willing to pay more into the budget after Brexit.

"The external convergence of direct payments: it's very difficult to get agreement if you don't know what the MFF is," said Hogan. Discussions on the MFF however are above the seniority of the agriculture ministers, but are determined by the EU's presidents and prime ministers.

"The budget is tied very much into what the final outcome will be on the issues around external convergence," he said, adding that his colleague responsible for the budget will present a proposal on 2 May.

The presidency conclusions, not yet published as of Tuesday morning but seen by this website, 'acknowledged' that more MFF discussions were needed.

The text also referred to the commission plan to give member states more room for manoeuvre when implementing the EU's farming policy.

The text welcomed the idea, but stressed that it must not lead to fragmentation. In a last-minute addition, the ministers added the phrase "pending further information from the commission".

The idea itself was only presented in a non-binding strategy paper.

Hogan said on Monday that he expected to propose legislation to reform the common agriculture policy "end of May or early June".

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