Slow progress on CAP deal giving EU officials the 'jitters'

The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan (Niall Carson/PA)
The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan (Niall Carson/PA)
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly (Julien Behal/PA)

Sarah Collins

EU officials are becoming increasingly frustrated at the deadlock in post-2020 farming talks.

Changes to CAP - proposed by the Commission last year in a set of three draft laws - are now being directly linked to a deal on the EU's long-term budget, after agriculture ministers issued an ultimatum.

The reforms include a move to limit or cap subsidies, redistribute aid from big to smaller farms, and force governments to prove how EU money is contributing to new climate targets.

A majority of EU farm ministers - from countries including France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark - have refused to negotiate the draft laws until they know how much money they've got to play with in the overall CAP budget for 2021-27.

Romania's agriculture minister - who currently chairs the ministers' monthly meetings - is to table a progress report on the CAP talks today, but it's set to be "underwhelming", one EU official said.

The original plan was to try lock down a joint ministerial position - or "general approach", in Brussels speak - on the three draft laws today. However, sources say that's now unlikely to happen until next year.

The Commission name-checked the CAP budget ahead of an EU leaders' summit this week, telling EU governments and MEPs to get on with negotiations.

"A significant acceleration will be needed for those programmes where inter-institutional negotiations are yet to start, which includes key programmes such as the common agricultural policy," the EU executive said in a note published last Friday.

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The Commission will present a paper to EU leaders at a summit this Thursday, calling for "strong political leadership" and a "new phase of political negotiations" in order to get the budget through.

EU officials are afraid money will be delayed if a deal is not sealed by the end of this year, as it took around three years after EU leaders' political sign-off on the 2014-19 budget to get the final legal green light.

The added problem this time is a Brexit delay to October 31 and a lack of clarity about how a raft of new (and especially green) MEPs will handle the CAP reform.

MEPs on the EU Parliament's agriculture committee voted through a raft of amendments to the draft CAP laws in April, but the drafts were never put to a vote by the full parliament. But any legislative work that has only reached committee stage lapses when new MEPs take their seats on July 2, unless a deal can be done between the heads of the new the political groups and the new Parliament president.

And the uncertainty is giving EU officials the jitters.

"The new agriculture committee could be full of a bunch of green nut jobs that want to throw all those reports into the bin," said one well-placed EU source. "We're all still waiting to see what the institution will look like."

MEPs are still in closed-door meetings in Parliament this week trying to form political groups and lobby for places on Parliament's various committees.

Ireland had three MEPs on the agriculture committee last term, but, said the EU source, it would "be doing very well to repeat that again".

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly is coordinating his party's committee places, and is angling for seats on the agriculture, industry, environment, economic affairs and civil liberties committees - with the fisheries and development committees also figuring in Fine Gael's thinking.

But he says that because of the complicated system used to make sure all countries and political groups get a fair shot at committee places - it's the same system used to allocate ministerial posts in Stormont - Ireland should only really hope for one MEP per committee.

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