POLITICIANS from all across Europe are battling it out this evening on how to divvy up the €50bn a year Common Agricultural Policy budget amongst farmers.
In Ireland farmers took to the streets of the capital today to warn their particular needs must not be sacrificed to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney’s need to seal a Europe-wide deal.
The Irish Farmers Association is worried that Mr Coveney will put brokering a deal in his role as President of the Council of Agriculture Ministers ahead of their wishes to preserve the status quo on payments as much as possible.
And in Luxembourg where he led discussions between MEPs, Ministers and the Commission, Simon Coveney is also walking a political tightrope over untested waters.
He’s made getting a deal on CAP by the end of this month a priority of his time in the spotlight during Ireland’s EU presidency – and is very keen to get such a notable achievement on his CV.
But Simon Coveney was uncharacteristically reticent to journalists today and seems to have learned from Eamon Gilmore’s experience in Luxembourg last week that the less said the better about what’s been achieved for fear of annoying the other players in the negotiations and jeopardising agreement.
This is the first time that the EU Parliament is being given a major say in how the CAP is reformed – and MEPs are determined they’re not going to be merely rubberstamping an agreement between the traditional European powerbrokers.
For that reason while talks will continue late tonight with another marathon session tomorrow – the main players will still have to decamp to Brussels on Wednesday to try and get an agreement over the line.
Travelling hundreds of miles to continue a conversation might seem insane to outsiders but it’s par for the course in the administrative labyrinth that is the EU, where everyone wants to claim responsibility for success.
In Luxembourg today progress was slow but steady on some of the key issues still outstanding.
However crunch decisions were still being held over till the very last minute.
For Ireland this includes the critical point of how much CAP money is redistributed between farmers within the country.
The Commission wants countries to move towards an equal payment per hectare instead of the huge variations in how much they get based on how much food they produced a decade ago when this was last decided on.
The IFA is bitterly opposed to too much redistribution – even though many small farmers would benefit – but it argues that highly productive farmers who are the engine of Ireland’s food industry would suffer enormous losses.
Limits on the amounts individual farmers can get are also being hotly debated in Luxembourg – this isn’t a big issue in Ireland but Europe-wide its highly contentious. All previous attempts to bring in a limit to the CAP have failed, with particular opposition in countries like Germany that have some huge former collective farms.
MEP Mairead McGuinness - who is one of the Parliament negotiators - warned today that it was by no means certain a deal would be done this week even though everyone would like to see it happen.
“All sides will need to show good faith and be willing to move away from fixed positions for an agreement on the future shape of agriculture policy to be fixed up to 2020,” she said.