The vote, and many separate amendments, will set the Parliament’s mandate for the negotiations to follow with the Council, represented by Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
The Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has voted down many of the reforms proposed by the European Commission, coming much closer to the position of some of the member states in the Farm Council. Some of the committee’s decisions are dividing MEPs, with the Parliament's Environment committee taking a very different view to the Agriculture committee, which leads on these proposals. The votes on some of the amendments are expected to be very tight.
Environmental NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund are critical of the MEPs’ move against efforts to ensure that agriculture is more environmentally sensitive in the future. and point out that one move that would result in double funding for farmers is in fact illegal. "Rather than the new policy promoting greening or environmentally enhancing policies, they will intensify funding of the same polluting farming", said WWF director Tony Long.
He added "Many MEPs on the COMAGRI supported the reduction of greening measures, voted for the illegal double funding measures, and the reduction of cross compliance measure, want the continuation of a money for nothing ethos that rewards large farmers regardless of the impact they have on nature ... Currently 20% of all recipients received 80% of all funding. This unjust distribution is set to continue if the EU parliament votes through these measures."
Irish Minister (and President of the Farm Council) Simon Coveney has already said that there would not be a dramatic redistribution in a short space of time, as had been originally proposed by the European Commission, between big and small farmers.
On Monday 11th March, the chairs of the Agriculture and Fisheries Committees from the parliaments of the EU member countries met in Dublin Castle to engage with EU commissioners Dacian Ciolos and Maria Damanaki and with Mr Coveney on the future of the CAP and common fisheries policies.
“Apart from the serious ethical problem of paying farmers twice for doing the same job, funding for environmental measures is already under pressure and if a regime of double payments is brought in there will be less money available for a real greening of the CAP.
“Already the CAP is struggling to win public legitimacy... If double payments are being introduced taxpayers will feel that they have been cheated and a backlash will rightly ensue."
As Kaley Hart of IEEP wrote in a Briefing for the UK Land Use Policy Group (October 2012), "the current CAP proposals have led to some confusion and debate around the double funding issue. The debate relates specifically to the interface between the green direct payments and payments under land management schemes in Pillar 2, particularly those under the agri-environment-climate measure (AECM)."
She concluded "It is important to ensure that ... the introduction of green direct payments does not duplicate support that is already provided under the agri-environment-climate measure, but rather provide a basic level of environmental management on which the agri-environment-climate measure can build."
Bowing to pressure for the European Parliament decision to be democratic and open, the agriculture and rural development committee agreed on 11th March to allow the full plenary session to vote on hundreds of amendments on the CAP, rather than just on a shortened list as proposed.
Many of the amendments would reverse some of those passed by the committee in January. This might even result in the Agriculture committee's report being referred back, leading to further delays in adopting a European Parliament position for the negotiations with the Council and Commission.
Matthias Groote MEP chair of Environment and Public Health committee, said that his committee had liked the original Commission proposal on greening pillar 1 of the CAP. They had sent their positive opinion to the Agriculture committee (ComAgri), and had been shocked by the result.
As the long-term budget, the European Council 'offer' on MFF was €100bn down on the proposals, and like other committees they were 'clear they will not accept this'.
Speaking at the Forum for European Agriculture on 5th March, he said his committee had asked for 20% of the CAP budget to be earmarked for climate change, but now following Agriculture committee decisions, all agreements would be voluntary - and would not be respected. He said it would be hard for him to argue for CAP reform as it now stands in next year's Euro elections.
As to the second pillar, his committee was clear that rural development is important. Cross compliance should be maintained in full. The ComAgri vote was 'totally unacceptable'.
Allan Buckwell, now of IEEP - who was a panellist in this session, spoke of the need to be clear on terminology. Intensification should be considered in in terms of 'knowledge per hectare'. Even the most intensive farming systems - in terms of kg/ha of fertiliser, for instance - are nowhere near at peak production, so long as they can be sustained. For some parts of farming, the outputs will include ecosystem services - carbon sequestration, water management etc.
As he pointed out, we systematically measure economic performance of farms and do benchmarking, which is well used by 'wide-awake farm managers'; we should do the same for the environment.
The European Forum was attended by a group of 10 UK farmers, estate managers and business professionals on a Eurinco-led visit to Brussels, where we also had dinner with key MEPs on the Agriculture committee.
Eurinco has long assured clients that double-funding will not be allowed - it would be in clear breach of WTO rules and the European Court of Auditors would rule against it. Indeed, it does not seem to be the intention of the EP COMAGRI amendments that double-funding be allowed, merely an oversight caused by the need to boil down over 8000 amendments (nearly 2000 of them on direct payments) into a more manageable 300 or so which were voted in committee.
The likely outcome, should the European Parliament view prevail in a form which is compatible with EU law, is that some of the measures currently included in for instabnce the entry-level scheme in England, and in similar agri-environment schemes elsewhere, will now be funded under pillar 1, releasing some funds from a reduced pillar 2 budget to be used for higher level schemes.
IEEP "The Principles of double funding" (Kaley Hart, Oct '12): www.cap2020.ieep.eu
Irish Examiner (1tth March '13): www.irishexaminer.com
WWW: "MEPs must reject double pay-out to farmers": www.wwf.org.uk
EurActiv, 12th March "Parliament makes U-turn, allows full vote on CAP reform": www.euractiv.com