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Parliament questions CAP reform

A controversial European Parliament response to the Commission's CAP reform proposals has sought major changes to the package.

In a serious departure from the CAP blueprint delivered by Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos last November, the parliament's report has sought to dilute some of the environmental thrust of the reform process by removing environmental constraints from the core Pillar I axis of farm policy.

The document suggests that compulsory 'greening' actions which form a key plank of the Ciolos proposals be moved from Pillar I to Pillar II of CAP. Pillar I deals with direct payments to farmers, while issues such as rural development and environmental measures are covered in Pillar II.

The report also rejects the capping of Single Farm Payments to individual farmers and calls for a major overhaul of EU rural development policy.

The report, which was discussed by the parliament's agriculture committee yesterday, was drawn up by Bavarian MEP Albert Dess.

It is the parliament's response to the latest CAP reform proposals that were released last November by Commissioner Ciolos.

Central to the Ciolos package was a proposal that farmers would receive a basic payment plus additional aid for 'greening actions' or 'public goods'. However, the Dess report maintains that any programmes aimed at the "sustainable management of natural resources" should be delivered from a catalogue of area-related Pillar II measures.

If farmers are to secure their full Pillar I payments then participation in at least two 'greening' measures from Pillar II will be obligatory.

"This model sees a major contribution to a simplification of the direct payment system and to the attainment of the new binding environmental targets," the Dess report states.

On a positive note for Europe's farmers, Mr Dess calls for the EU agriculture spending for the period from 2013 to 2020 to be maintained at current levels.

In relation to the distribution of CAP direct payments, Mr Dess says every Member State should receive at least two thirds of the EU average.

This would require a major transfer of funds to Eastern Europe. However, he states that this objective should be realised on a phased basis.

Worryingly for Ireland, the MEP calls for the decoupling of direct payments from historical reference periods, in favour of a transition to area-related payments which would be set on a regional or national basis.

Mr Dess calls for an end to the "disproportionate burdens" placed on animal husbandry under cross compliance and seeks a "critical review" of some of the hygiene and animal identification standards.

The German MEP comes out against the capping of individual direct payments but states that these supports should only be available to active farmers.

With regard to Pillar II measures, Mr Dess maintains that the rural development programme should be targeted at climate change and rural land use measures, as well as the promotion of initiatives for young farmers.

In a move which will not please former Irish sugar beet growers, Mr Dess calls for the extension of the current sugar quota regime to 2020.

The Dess report is proving controversial among MEPs as it is a radical departure from the Commission's proposals.

It has provoked heated debate among Mr Dess's own European Peoples Party in the parliament and the general consensus is that the document will be substantially changed before it is voted on later this spring.

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