European policy consultants
Rural development and renewable energy

Council of Farm Ministers discussions on CAP reform post 2013

The second round table discussed the definition of 'active farmer', proposals for capping payments to large farms and internal redistribution of support payments.

On the proposal to limit payments to 'active farmers' , there was broad support for the Presidency's suggestion that, to avoid undue administrative burdens, member states should not be required to control the proportion of direct payments received as a proportion of receipts from
non-agricultural activities This would allow member states a greater margin of discretion.

Many delegations welcomed the Commission proposal to establish an additional "negative list" of activities which would not be considered as active farming.

The capping of the direct payments received by the largest farms in the EU is one of the issues in the current negotiations on the budget (or 'multiannual financial framework') for 2014-2020.

In respect of the technical aspects of capping, several delegations called for a simpler approach to calculation, while some member states (including UK) remained opposed to the principle.

On the redistribution of payments within member states, the Commission has proposed that member states achieve a uniform level of direct payments at regional or national level by 2019.

A considerable number of ministers had concerns about the impact of this proposal and stressed the need for greater flexibility and appropriate transitional periods. The presidency conclusions from March 2011 (7921/11 - to which UK is not signed up) already identified the need for flexibility at national/regional level, with appropriate transitional periods to avoid disruption.

The internal redistribution issue is more of a concern in Scotland and Wales, where a largely historical basis of allocation has been retained since the 2003 reforms, whereas in England the largely regional basis of support is more compatible with the new model.

However, there will be tough negotiations between Defra and the 'devolved administrations', particularly the Scottish Government, on the distribution of the payments envelope. At present, payment levels in Scotland are significantly lower than in England.

There may also be discussions within England at a later stage as to the dstribution of payments between the three 'regions', particularly as the definition of less-favoured areas is to be revised.

Ministers held an orientation debate on the "greening" of the common agricultural policy (CAP)
within the framework of the CAP reform proposals (9599/12).

There was broad support for the principle of greening the CAP for the period 2014-2020 within pillar 1 (direct payments) but some delegations made clear that the methods would have to be changed from those proposed.

Most delegations underlined that additional greening measures have to be coherent with their
specific objective circumstances; to be simple in their application and control, with implementation costs remaining proportional.

Instead of the three key measures for the greening as proposed by the Commission (crop
diversification, permanent grasslands and creation of ecological focus areas (EFA), member states would in general prefer a "menu" approach where countries could choose green equivalencies to these measures. Such a flexible approach would help to take into account the diversity of agricultures in the EU and would avoid a "one size fits all" approach.

A number of member states suggested adjustments on the key measures for greening such as:
– modify the definition of permanent grassland in order to maintain the management of these
areas at regional or national level instead of farm level as proposed by the Commission,
– change the parameters of crop diversification, including increasing the minimum threshold,
the minimal number of crops requested and the definition of crop,
– diminish the 7 % threshold for the EFA or/and adapt the EFA requirements to meet the
threshold in terms of scope and in recognition of efforts at local or regional level.

Many member states saw it as crucial to widen the scope of "greening by definition" by
recognising other measures apart from organic farming, including specific operations for
environment and climate under pillar II, as well as areas of specific environmental value. The
Commission has already considered an adjustment of its original proposal to take this requirement into account.

Finally, a vast majority of delegations estimated that the level of sanctions applicable when the
greening objectives are not met should not affect direct payments themselves but only the additional part of these payments (30%) dedicated to greening.

– Regulation for direct payments to farmers (15396/1/11);
– Regulation on the financing, management and monitoring of the CAP (the "horizontal"
regulation) (15426/1/11);
– Regulation for rural development (15425/1/11).