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The political agreement for the new farm policy for 2014-2020

Parliament, Council and the Commission strike a political deal. More emphasis on environmental protection, mandatory top-ups for young farmers in all member states, stronger farmers' organisations and less red tape when spending EU funds

Over 77% of the EU's territory is classified as rural (47% is farm land and 30% forest) and is home to around half its population (farming communities and other residents). 12 million (full-time). Overall, agriculture and the agri-foods industry - which is heavily dependent on the agricultural sector for its supplies - account for 6% of the EU's GDP, comprise 15 million businesses and provide 46 million jobs.

The EU's common agricultural policy is designed to support farming that ensures food safety (in a context of climate change) and promote sustainable and balanced development across all Europe's rural areas, including those where production conditions are difficult.
Such farming must thus fulfil multiple functions: meeting citizens' concerns about food (availability, price, variety, quality and safety), safeguarding the environment and allowing farmers to make a living.
At the same time, rural communities and landscapes must be preserved as a valuable part of Europe's heritage.
As of 2014, further to the political agreement of June 2013, the common agricultural policy will take greater account of the diversity of European agriculture.

The political agreement on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms 2014-2020 comes after three months of intensive negotiations but still depends on a final agreement on the EU's long-term budget for 2014-2020.

"The political agreement we reached today is a victory both for EU farmers and consumers. This is the first time Parliament has been involved in the reform of EU farm policy as a full co-legislator and we proved that we are fully capable of doing the job. We managed to improve the proposals while defending Parliament's mandate," said Agriculture Committee chair and head of Parliament's negotiating team Paolo De Castro (S&D, IT).

The CAP's budget is spent in 3 different ways:
- Income support for farmers and assistance for complying with sustainable agricultural practices: farmers receive direct payments, provided they live up to strict standards relating to food safety, environmental protection and animal health and welfare. These payments are fully financed by the EU, and account for 70% of the CAP budget. Under the June 2013 reform, 30% of direct payments will be linked to European farmers' compliance with sustainable agricultural practices which are beneficial to soil quality, biodiversity and the environment generally, such as crop diversification, the maintenance of permanent grassland or the preservation of ecological areas on farms.
- Market-support measures: these come into play, for example, when adverse weather conditions destabilise markets. Such payments account for less than 10% of the CAP budget.
- Rural development measures: these are intended to help farmers modernise their farms and become more competitive, while protecting the environment, contributing to the diversification of farming and non-farming activities and the vitality of rural communities. These payments are part-financed by the member countries, generally extend over a number of years, and account for some 20% of the CAP's budget.

EU funds only for active farmers
To ensure that direct payments go only to active farmers, MEPs persuaded Council to draw up a blacklist of entities, such as airports or sports clubs, to be automatically excluded from EU funding unless they prove that farming contributes to a substantial share of their income.

Greener farm policy for everyone
Under the agreement, 30% of member states' budgets for direct payments may be spent only if mandatory greening measures are carried out. However, the measures will be implemented gradually and linked to farm size. The three key measures are crop diversification, maintaining permanent grassland and creating "ecologically-focused areas".
To give an extra boost to greening efforts, Parliament's negotiators won an agreement to earmark 30% of total rural development spending for environment-related measures.

Young and small farmers
To attract more young people into farming, Parliament insisted on a mandatory EU-wide scheme to give farmers under 41 years old an extra 25% in additional top-up payments for their first 25 to 90 hectares. Small farmers could also get more money if member states decide to set up a specific scheme for them.

by Graziano Alderighi
01 july 2013, World News > Europe