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by Dr Alan Bullion, Principal Analyst, Informa Agra ///

The adoption of five EU regulations last December marked the end of a two-year decision-making process on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. But that was still not the end of the story, as they did not clarify how all of the requirements would be implemented at farm level from now until 2020.

That is the job of the European Commission, through a set of so-called ‘delegated acts’. But despite having agreed to give Brussels this responsibility, national governments and MEPs have been threatening to reject the implementing plans.

Yet this would put the entry into force of the agreed reforms into real doubt and create new uncertainty for authorities and farmers alike – not something that politicians would like to be remembered for.

However, MEPs and governments are still not entirely happy with the delegated acts, despite having been consulted – the Commission says extensively – during the drafting process.

Of the ten delegated acts, adopted in mid-March, the one on the new ‘greening’ requirements has proved the most controversial. This is not surprising, as greening was one of the most contentious parts of the reform throughout the political negotiations.

From 2015 onwards, 30% of all CAP direct payments will be linked to environmentally-friendly measures – to try and increase biodiversity on farms and justify the continuation of direct aid for agriculture from the EU budget.

Implementing the new ‘Ecological Focus Areas’ (EFAs) at farm level was always likely to be divisive. The Commission’s delegated acts states that member states will decide, based on an EU-wide list, what counts towards an EFA, with ‘weighting factors’ for the various features.

Nitrogen-fixing crops such as alfalfa, clover and lupins will be eligible, with limited use of pesticides and fertilisers to be permitted, as long as member states can show the cultivation is contributing to the ultimate goal of the EFA, which is improving biodiversity.

While this leeway has appeased most governments, who had demanded no loss in agricultural production levels, the Commission’s environment and climate departments were reportedly furious, having lobbied hard to ban all pesticides and fertilisers from the EFAs.

Despite the informal consultations with the Commission prior to the adoption of the acts, some member state governments pushed for a discussion at Farm Council meeting the week before last. Instead, representatives should hold further talks with Commission officials.

MEPs have themselves warned they are not entirely satisfied. They have not revealed their exact concerns, but they are on direct payments, with fears of a big “additional bureaucratic burden” for farmers and authorities.

On April 7, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (ComAgri) backed the ‘delegated acts’, although the implementing plans must still not be rejected by the wider Parliament or member state governments in the Council in order to be enacted. The Agricultural Committee will now ask the whole Parliament to announce no objections to the acts when it meets for the next plenary session in Strasbourg next week (April 14-17).

However, an objection to any of the ten implementation documents could still be tabled – although this requires at least 40 MEPs or the whole of a political group. And for the act to actually be rejected by the Parliament, an absolute majority would be needed, i.e. 384 of the 766 MEPs.

The Council must also not reject the acts within a two-month period for them to come into force. A rejection by governments is also now very unlikely, given the concessions and clarifications recently issued on EFAs.

The Commission and farm lobby Copa-Cogeca have warned that a rejection would put implementation of ‘greening’ and other elements starting in 2015 at serious risk, as authorities would have little time to prepare. Farmers’ investment plans and planting decisions would also be affected, they said.

The Commission would have to draw up new versions of the documents later this year – with the added problem that the Parliament will basically shut down for the summer due to elections in May.

This would leave national authorities very little time to prepare for the new provisions that are supposed to come into force in January 2015, including greening. Farmers would also not have certainty, affecting investment plans and forthcoming plantings.

 

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