The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney TD, has described as a watershed moment today’s agreement by European Agriculture Ministers of a Council position on the reform of the CAP. Following marathon talks in Brussels, Ministers this evening accepted a package of proposals tabled by the Irish Presidency, and successfully concluded what is known as a General Approach on the CAP reform package.
UPDATE: Read the main elements of the Council position on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy
The agreement allows the negotiation process to move to the final, so-called ‘trilogue’, stage of the negotiations, where the Irish Presidency will represent the Council in discussions with the European Parliament and with the Commission. The successful completion of the Council’s deliberations means that the Irish Presidency’s target of an inter-institutional political agreement by the end of June remains very much on target.
Minister Coveney said: “After two long days and nights of discussions, I am delighted to announce that the Council of Agriculture Ministers has taken an enormous step forward in the CAP reform negotiations by agreeing its position on the Commission’s reform proposals. I congratulate my Member State colleagues on reaching this vitally important milestone, which marks a watershed moment in what has been a lengthy reform process and brings us considerably closer to our ultimate objective of an overall political agreement with the European Parliament and the Commission by the end of June.”
Minister Coveney paid tribute to the commitment demonstrated by his colleagues to what have in many respects been very complex and detailed discussions over the last two days.
Minister Coveney - “It is difficult to overestimate the scale of today’s achievement, given the range and complexity of issues which have had to be addressed by Member States. It has proved possible thanks to the determined commitment of my colleagues to reach an agreement, which has been matched by their readiness to compromise on what for them have been extremely sensitive issues.”
He also praised the flexibility shown by Member States in the interests of arriving at a compromise that paves the way for the further negotiations which must now take place with the European Parliament and the Commission.
Referring to some of the main points of the accord, Minister Coveney was particularly pleased to note his colleagues’ agreement to the principle of flexibility in the way in which direct payments are to be distributed within Member States (known as internal convergence). This had been the outstanding issue in the negotiations from an Irish perspective. The inclusion of the model proposed by Ireland in the range of options for Member States holds out the prospect of significantly lower transfers of payments between farmers than would be the case under the Commission’s flat rate proposal. Other Member States also expressed satisfaction with the inclusion of alternative models such as the ‘first hectares’ redistributive payment and the extension of the Single Area Payment Scheme until 2020.
The Minister also welcomed the Council’s agreement to the Irish Presidency’s proposals in relation to the greening of direct payments. While adhering broadly to the Commission’s approach on the application of the three standard criteria, the text agreed contains amendments that provide additional flexibility demanded by Member States, and again represents a good political compromise on what is a complex and technical element of the CAP reform package. It also deals with Ireland’s requirements in relation to the application of the greening payment as a percentage of an individual farmer’s payment rather than as a flat rate.
Another difficult issue that has been successfully resolved is the question of the extension of the sugar quota regime. Member States agreed a compromise proposal which provides for the ending of the regime in 2017. In this context the Minister described the outcome as a very reasonable one, and he welcomed in particular the pulling back of the expiry date from 2020, as had been demanded initially by many Member States. Other key features of the Council’s agreed position are an increase in the rates of voluntary coupled support, the implementation of new Areas of Natural Constraint, and the replacement of the vine planting rights regime with a system of authorisations that will run from 2019. The Minister also noted a change in the proposed reference year for the establishment of payment entitlements.
Minister Coveney -“The four main proposals agreed today cover the full breadth of the CAP, but I am especially pleased to note the progress made in relation to the internal convergence of direct payments, the greening of direct payments and the future of the sugar quota regime.
"On internal convergence, we have secured the required flexibility from Member States that allows the Irish model of partial convergence to be included in the options available for the distribution of direct payments. On greening, we have ensured that the payment may be a percentage of each farmer’s individual payment rather than a flat rate, as well as negotiating a difficult and complex compromise on the implementation of the three greening criteria proposed by the Commission. And on sugar quotas, we have secured an earlier abolition of the regime than originally sought by most Member States.”
Minister Coveney immediately turned his attention to the next phase of the CAP reform process. He emphasised that today’s agreement marks only a step - albeit a vitally important step - on the road to the ultimate objective of an inter-institutional agreement by the end of June. Welcome as today’s developments are, he stressed the need to maintain a very clear and strong focus on what remains to be done in order to achieve that objective.
Minister Coveney - “We should rightly acknowledge our achievement today. But we should also acknowledge that it is only an interim success. We need to move on quickly from here and build on the momentum of the last week, which has also seen the European Parliament finalise its position on the CAP reform package. I therefore urge all participants across all three institutions to maintain their focus and to redouble their efforts so that, together, we can bring the reform negotiations to a conclusion by the end of June.”
The Special Agriculture Committee will next week conclude the Council’s negotiating mandate before the process moves into the trilogue phase. The Minister called for the continued active engagement of all three institutions in the trilogues, which he hopes will be informed by the same spirit of compromise that has been demonstrated over the last two days. And he looked forward to exploiting the momentum provided by today’s developments over the weeks ahead as the end-June target for an overall agreement begins to loom larger.