Broad welcome for CAP `health check` from EP Agriculture Committee

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Source: European Parliament

The European Commission's draft 'health check' on the common agriculture policy was broadly welcomed by most members of the EP Agriculture Committee when it was presented on Tuesday, although it did prompt a number of questions. Among other things, MEPs warned against budget cuts.

'The Commission does not see the CAP health check as a new reform', stressed Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel. At the same time it is more than 'fine-tuning' of the 2003 reform.  It will cover necessary adjustments and simplifications in time for the review of the EU budget framework scheduled for 2009.
 
According to the Commissioner, the health check should:
 
- make market support instruments still more relevant in a globalised world by phasing out export refunds, limiting intervention buying of cereals to wheat, abolishing the 'obsolete' set-aside system and preparing a 'soft landing' for when dairy quotas expire in 2015;
 
- make the Single Payment Scheme more effective, efficient and simple by 'allowing Member States to adjust their chosen model towards a flatter rate' based less on past production levels, pursuing full decoupling of production aid, phasing in upper limits on support received by the biggest beneficiaries of the CAP, establishing a lower limit for small farmers and reviewing the scope of the cross-compliance regime;
 
- tackle other 'urgent challenges' such as risk management, climate change, the need for more efficient water management, the need to make the most of bio-energy and the preservation of biodiversity - the price to pay for all this being more compulsory modulation of farm aid, shifting funds towards rural development policy.
 
Most MEPs spoke in favour of simplifying payments and cross-compliance rules, abolishing set-aside, increasing quotas and phasing out the current system as well as increasing funding for rural development. Several Members highlighted the risk that increased compulsory modulation in favour of rural development might work to the disadvantage of the poorer countries, which already have problems co-financing EU projects in this area.  The question of an upper limit on aid also prompted varying responses, with some Members worrying about the future of former large collective farms, such as in former East Germany.
 
MEPs to keep an eye on the budget
 
Lutz Goepel (EPP-ED, DE), who is drafting a European Parliament own-initiative report on the Commission's plans, welcomed the Commissioner's statement, saying 'Even if you say that the patient is not sick, he still has to live a long time. So I agree with you - we must perform a check-up, in fact an urgent one'. He believed that Parliament and Commission could get onto 'the same wavelength' regarding several points, though he stressed that MEPs would be extremely watchful about the budgetary issues, given the expected fall in agriculture spending at constant prices up to 2013 and the coming review of the EU budget framework in 2008/2009.  'I am assuming we will have a new treaty on 1 January 2009 with new powers for Parliament and a new budget procedure', he said.
 
Speaking on behalf of the Socialist Group, Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (PES, PT) argued that the debated should be 'more wide-ranging and more detailed' than the Commission proposed. 'We are for a greener and more competitive European agriculture, one which is open to the world but regulated, with strong social, environmental and food safety rules, one which shows solidarity with developing countries and can take up the challenge of biofuels'.
 
For the Liberals, Niels Busk (ALDE, DE) favoured the scrapping of dairy quotas and a thorough review of the modulation rules, seeing the current ones as a 'source of distortion between Member States'.
 
Friedrich Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf (Greens/EFA, DE), believed Parliament should 'remain wary, especially about agriculture spending, to avoid any major cuts, above all to rural development'. He added that practical proposals would be needed to fight climate change.
 
According to Janusz Wojciechowksi (UEN, PL), priority should go to stopping 'unfair competition' from non-EU countries and reducing inequalities between farmers within the Union. 'The EU must acquire the right to protect its farmers', he said.
 
'Your proposals are like a series of small electric shocks to small and medium-sized farmers', was the view of Diamanto Manolakou (GUE/NGL, GR), who was also concerned about the EU'S growing dependence on food imports.  'We cannot support you', he said.
 
Next steps
 
In connection with the drafting of its own-initiative report, the Agriculture Committee is holding a hearing of experts on 27 November in Brussels.  Two technical studies on the two 'pillars' of the CAP are then due to be presented at the committee's meeting of 17 and 18 December.  The report is currently scheduled for adoption in February 2008, with the plenary vote in March.  A consultation report, on the Commission's legislative proposals due in May, will be drafted in the second half of 2008.

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