MEPs flex muscles over EU farm aid reform
By Benjamin Fox
MEPs are set to back increased spending on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as parliament flexes legislative muscles acquired under the Lisbon treaty.
Speaking after a first round of voting on Wednesday (23 January), agriculture committee chairman Paolo De Casto, an Italian centre-left MEP, said: "Any further cuts to the CAP are simply unacceptable," and called on EU leaders to swiftly strike a deal on the EU's long-term budget.
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MEPs want the CAP to be "more efficient, greener and able to respond to the enormous challenges ahead of us. Such ambitious goals entail higher costs," he added.
Deputies on the committee will conclude voting on Thursday (24 January) on four bills aimed at reforming the system of agricultural subsidies in the 27-country bloc.
The votes mark the first time that MEPs have enjoyed equal law-making powers with national governments on the CAP, which, despite decreasing from over 80 percent to under 40 percent as a proportion of the EU budget, still remains the biggest single item of spending by Brussels.
Before the Lisbon treaty, parliament played a merely consultative role, with ministers solely responsible for agreeing settlements on spending.
The policy has also moved from direct payments for food production to environmental protection, with 30 percent of CAP payments now dependent on crop diversification, the maintainance of permanent pasture and permanent grassland and creating "ecologically focused areas."
The committee also backed European Commission proposals to put a €300,000 cap on farm subsidies, alongside drastic cuts in payments worth more than €150,000.
In a bid to distribute the cash more evenly among member states, MEPs backed amendments guaranteeing that no country's farmers would receive less than 65 percent of the EU average.
In a further bid to avoid embarrassing subsidy claims from non-farming bodies, MEPs also set out a list of organisations, including airports and golf clubs, to be automatically excluded from EU funding unless they prove that farming contributes a substantial share of their income.
With no agreement having been reached on the EU's 2014-2020 budget, talks on the future CAP among government ministers remain at an early stage.
Talks between MEPs and ministers will not start in earnest before further discussions on the multi-financial framework, which are on the agenda for the first EU summit of 2013 in February.