On December 2 there was a conference at the French information bureau at the European Parliament on the issue of ‘What agriculture policies after 2012? A fair, Green, sustainable and useful CAP.’ The Europeans deputies from the four groups, a member of DG agriculture of the European Union and various members of agriculture organisations opened a dialogue and debated the options for reform of the European Commission.
Pierre Bascou, Head of Unit at DG Agriculture at the Commission, started the discussion by evoking the various challenges and objectives that the common agriculture policy (CAP) will have to confront.
The 10 propositions put forward by the Commission on 12 October try to deal with the 3 major challenges that the CAP must deal with:
Pierre Bascou highlighted the fact that ‘the Commissions propositions are in the context of a strict budgetary framework, which must take the diversity of the 27 member states into account. So, it is very difficult to have adequate tools to satisfy all 27 member states of the European Union.’
In addition to these 3 challenges, the 10 proposals drawn up by the Commission for the CAP 2014-2020 look to ensure that three objectives are satisfied:
The draft reform of the CAP looks to strengthen the competitivity, sustainability and the foundations of agriculture throughout the territories, so as to guarantee quality and healthy food for all citizens, preserve the environment and develop rural areas.
Several deputies have underlined the importance of the participation of the European Parliament in the debate on the CAP: since the implementation of the Lisbon treaty in 2009, the institution has become a co-legislator, at the same level as the Council of the European Union.
The CAP budget put forward by the Commission for the 2014-2020 period could go up to 435 billion euros, of which 317 billion would be for the first pillar, 101 billion for the second and the rest would be allocated to R&D and other additional financing.
For Euro-deputy Sylvie Goulard (ADLE) the choices put forward in CAP policy are important and profound. She has said that she is satisfied that the EP is included in this important democratic debate.
Agnès Le Brun (EPP) also highlighted the importance of co-decision, before adding that ‘The European Parliament’s sphere of influence will be different going forward. It has been able to work on common objectives. The Unions must also do this.’ But she has criticised the lack of consultation at the European Parliament, and wants to know more about farmer’s demands.
One of the main objectives in the proposals drawn up by the Commission is to revive competitivity.
But for several Euro-deputies and agriculture representatives this objective is difficult to reconcile with the ‘greening’ policy as it stands: 30% of direct payments will go to practices that ensure optimal use of natural resources, like the diversification of crops, keeping permanent meadows or preserving ecological reserves and areas.
According to Euro deputy Sylvie Goulard (ADLE) ‘We want greener agriculture, but we also want to feed everyone.’ In the Lyon Report The ALDE group detailed its concerns with regards to the administrative procedures required for ‘greening’, that run the risk of significantly increasing paperwork.
On this issue, Pierre Bascou, Head of DG Agriculture states that there will be dialogue especially about ‘ the extent to which we can integrate measures without penalising farmers or competitivity. He added ‘in the short term it could be feasible, but in the long term, competitivity and environmental practices are interlinked.’
According to Christian Pees from Coop de France, ‘we all know we should produce better and in greater quantity. The Commission’s system is simple, but the real solution is supporting agricultural techniques, so that they are as good as they can be.’ He insists on the need for going even further with mechanisms for market management. He agrees on the objectives, but is worried about how we will achieve them.
Euro-deputy Stéphane Le Foll (S&D) thinks that ‘the environmental question is a major issue for the 21st century,’ according to him ‘ the combination of production, social and environmental, is a challenge to be dealt with. The Environmental factor is an opportunity and will allow for change: we must get back to a system where every actor is responsible for the objectives, not just the tools.
Euro-deputies and actors in the agriculture sector have again highlighted the problem of price volatility in the agriculture sector; for consumers, as prices can be very high, and for producers as they can be very low.
For Phillippe Collin, from Confédération paysanne, ‘when we read the proposals coming out of the Commission, there is no fracture in the CAP.’ According to him, prices are very volatile, and we have support systems which are rigidly linked to surface area, and this makes access to land more expensive, and has an adverse effect.
Christian Pees from Coop France acknowledges that the Commission’s main objectives are laudable, but he is concerned about their execution, the reactivity of the system and on the available means.
According to him, ‘price volatility is a reality’ and he adds ‘balance in the CAP as it is envisioned is sufficient, but under budgetary pressure choices will have to be made and we will have to know which Commission proposals to keep and which to abandon: should we come down in favour of consumers, who are dealing with increased costs, or on the side of producers who are selling their produce for a very low price?
For Euro-deputy Patrick Le Hyaric (GUE-NGL), ‘volatility will last for a while, and so we need public stocks in Europe to combat it’.
In response to all these remarks on price volatility and their adverse effects on the market, Pierre Bascou responded that ‘even if we deregulated the agriculture market in 1992, we are still far from a free market, and we still have a support mechanism for farmers, with a security net. ‘
This Commission proposal has also caused debate among Euro-deputies and representatives from agricultural organisations.
The commission wants to create grants that are better adapted to income in order to stimulate growth and employment. It suggests an income based grant for active farmers, that would go down from €150,000, and that could be capped from more than €300,000 per farm per year.
For Stéphane Le Foll (S&D) ‘the technique of capping would allow everyone to get something back. In the EP, more than 450 deputies voted for degression. If you want to take the work environment into account, it’s the fundamental aspect of redistribution.’
For M. Le Hyaric (GUE-NGL), ‘Capping is a good idea, but the cap is too high. It will not help young people.’ According to him ‘To create a Europe without salary inequality, we must go back to a system of remuneration based on prices set by the European Union. This crisis is an opportunity to revisit a few things.’
On the issue of the allocated budget for the future CAP, Stéphane Le Foll (S&D) says ‘We need to know where we’re going. Nothing is safe. Now the real issue is Europe and what it wants to achieve.’ He adds that ‘The CAP is part of the redistribution policies, but the yield doesn’t increase, only work productivity is still going up. But it varies depending on the sector, and this is why redistribution poses important questions: access to food, health...these are fundamental issues.’ He then says ’we need the CAP to manage all of that. And we must be mindful of green issues.’
The issue of permanent meadows, and especially the problem of defining them has been widely debated. According to a member of the audience, it is impossible to have the same definition in all member states, and farmers should be left to decide amongst themselves.
Pierre Bascou thinks that ‘we should maintain permanent meadows, this is why definitions have been put forward, the situation cannot stay as it is.’ He has said that when we left each member state to define permanent meadows, many had definitions that were too restrictive. This is why the Commission is looking to widen the definition in order to allow some non-herbaceous meadows to be classified as permanent or perpetual meadows.
Carole Dore, the Vice-president of the National Young Farmers organisation highlighted the need for ‘preserving the diversity of products and landscapes’. She also highlighted the generational challenges ahead: less than 6% of farmers are under 40.
Christian Pees from Coop France has underlined the different approaches in Europe towards the market, ‘competition between agricultural areas could lead to the eradication of some of these zones. Without competitive agriculture, there is no agri-food, the two issues are linked.’
Sylvie Goulard (ADLE) is calling for Europe-orientated policies and she also stated that ‘we should not defend a France friendly CAP at all costs, French perception of regulation is not shared by everyone.’ According to her, the Commission’s road map is untenable with the current budget allocated to the CAP.
She says we must break with a taboo: ‘Even though economies are organised on a national level we still need to spend on a European level’.