13th Aug 2022

Farm reform proposals remain 'vague', says ex-commissioner

  • Former EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler (Photo: European Commission)

Former EU agriculture commissioner Franz Fischler has said plans to overhaul the bloc's common agricultural policy remain "vague" and fail to protect the region's part-time farmers.

The Austrian politician, who ran the EU's agriculture department between 1995 and 2004, said he broadly supported the commission's CAP reform communication, published last November, but signaled improvements were possible.

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"The paper got the aims of the future common agricultural policy right. When it comes to the possible measures, here the paper is a bit vague," Fischer told EUobserver in an interview this week.

"I guess this was done on purpose to allow more discussion," he added.

CAP reform post-2013 tops the agenda of a meeting of EU farm ministers in Brussels this Thursday (17 March), with member state sets to publish their views on the commission's non-legislative plans.

With farm payments accounting for roughly €55 billion of the EU's €120 billion annual budget, more reformist states such as the UK and Sweden have traditionally called for a redirection of the EU spending towards growth and innovation projects.

Fischler said he supported the commission's view, outlined in the communication, that farmers should continue to receive a basic payment, coupled with potential add-ons for additional environmental measures.

"The European farming sector is not only producing food and fibre, but also public goods [such as clear air and water]. And because these goods don't have a price on the market place, one has to find a way to pay for them," he said.

"The other part is income support. Are the incomes of farmers good enough so we can do away with this element? For the time being the reality is that European farmers earn about 60 percent of the EU average."

Under the November communication, drafted by current EU farm chief Dacian Ciolos, the commission stresses that future payments should be targetted towards full-time farmers.

This is a mistake said Fischler. "Part-time farming in Europe is a very important aspect, almost half the farmers are part-time ... They are also producing public goods and have to be rewarded for that," he said.

And while he supports a limit on payments to wealthy farmers, he said a sliding-scale system of payments rather than an upper cap was the way to achieve this.

Once member states outline their positions this Thursday, the commission will then prepare formal legislative proposals to be published this autumn.

EU officials acknowledge the debate is also closely linked to the size and shape of the EU's post-2013 multi-annual budget, with MEPs under the Lisbon Treaty now having co-decision powers on farm policy.

"I'm sure there will be two readings in the parliament and then a conciliation process with member states. So we will see the final outcome mid-2013 at the earliest," said Fischler.

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