Poland calls for overhaul of EU agricultural funding
Poland's top farm official has slated the EU's agricultural policy, or CAP, as "two-speed" and common "only in name," calling for a new system with reduced direct payments for farmers and increased money to help restructure the sector.
Speaking to journalists on Monday (8 November), Marek Sawicki from Poland's conservative Peasant Party also threw his support behind one option outlined in next week's European Commission proposal on CAP reform, and slammed the contents of a recent Franco-German position paper as purely "cosmetic."
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Warsaw was angered last month when Berlin and Paris published a bilateral proposal on CAP reform, despite earlier plans to make it a three-way document. The large eastern European country also said that the proposal failed to correct current imbalances.
Direct payments for farmers in newer member states are strongly linked to farm size, while those in the EU15 countries receive funds calculated using a complicated system that takes into account historic stock or crop levels.
This has resulted in huge variations in direct payment sizes, with per-hectare payments for Polish farmers amounting to roughly €150, compared with while €300 for French farmers.
"Unfortunately what German and France proposed [last month] are only cosmetic changes ... it has nothing to do with moving away from historical payments," said Mr Sawicki.
"It is no secret that at the moment we have two speeds in Europe. There are old and new member states and they move at different speeds," he added. "There's 27 different common agricultural policies, but only the name is common."
To balance this out, Mr Sawicki wants direct payments for farmers in all member states to be reduced in size, while EU funding under the policy's 'rural development' pillar should be increased. Payments for Polish farmers are already split roughly evenly between the two funding channels.
"Farmers who receive 60 or 70 percent of their overall income from direct payments are no longer interested in modernisation and the development of their farms," said Mr Sawicki.
"If France wants to stay with 92 percent of direct payment and Germany 85 percent ... it's their own choice and they can do it until the end of 2013," he added. "But European politicians that insist on keeping these direct payments will stagnate Europe and it will lose competitiveness."
Conscious that its proposal may run into opposition as more funds are directed towards eastern Europe, Warsaw has been busily gathering supporters. EU farm ministers from states that joined in 2004 or later met in the margins of a recent agriculture council in Brussels, while a meeting between Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria will take place on Tuesday (9 November) in Bratislava.
Rowing back from Poland's recent calls for a purely per-hectare system of direct payments, Mr Sawicki said he supported a middle-way option listed in next week's commission communication on CAP reform, seen by EUobserver.
The option proposes that all farmers receive a minimum income support payment, variable according to their country, plus a further payment linked to environmental protection. Costs in each country, purchasing power, and employment levels are among the variable criteria being discussed.
Traditionally more pro-reform countries such as the UK and Sweden are likely to look for a reduction in overall farm spending however, with Germany also indicating that the EU's future multi-annual budget (post 2013) should not increase in size. France is currently working on a new position paper on CAP reform.
On one point, Warsaw and Paris are already in strong agreement. "The CAP budget must not be reduced in size," insisted Mr Sawicki.