Coveney: CAP reform a 'watershed moment'
on 20/03/2013 10:27:45
The agreement follows two days of intense talks in Brussels chaired by Mr Coveney and will now have to be finalised by the EU Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission.
An agreement is set to be reached by June.
The Irish Farmers Association has said the deal contains "important flexibilities" - but the group maintain that farmers will still lose a significant amount of money.
Minister Coveney said:"I am delighted to announce that the Council of Agriculture Ministers has taken an enormous step forward in the CAP reform negotiations by agreeing its position on the Commission's reform proposals.
"It marks a watershed moment in what has been a lengthy reform process and brings us considerably closer to our ultimate objective of an overall political agreement with the European Parliament and the Commission by the end of June."
Ministers have agreed to the principle of flexibility in the way in which direct payments are to be distributed within Member States, known as internal convergence.
This had been the outstanding issue in the negotiations from an Irish perspective and the model was proposed by Ireland.
It holds out the prospect of significantly lower transfers of payments between farmers than would be the case under the Commission's flat rate proposal.
Alternative models, such as the 'first hectares' redistributive payment and the extension of the Single Area Payment Scheme until 2020, were included.
The reform plans include limiting maximum permitted direct payments from the CAP budget to any one farm in the EU at €300,000.
The provisional deal approved by MEPs and left intact by ministers also makes 30% of direct payments conditional on complying with compulsory green measures on crop diversification, maintaining permanent pasture and grassland, and creating "ecologically focused areas".
The council also agreed to Ireland's amendments to provide additional flexibility on the greening of direct payments.
Member States also agreed a compromise proposal which provides for the ending of the sugar quota regime in 2017, pulling it back from the original date of 2020.
Other council agreements were an increase in the rates of voluntary coupled support, the implementation of new Areas of Natural Constraint, and the replacement of the vine planting rights regime with a system of authorisations that will run from 2019.
Britain's Environment Secretary Owen Paterson vowed today to fight for tougher moves to wean farmers off subsidies.
Mr Paterson insisted that the future Common Agricultural Policy must centre on reducing EU support for the market and making the sector more competitive rather than being propped up by taxpayers.
He said he had successfully resisted bids from some ministers to extend the use of support for the market in a modernised CAP and added: "I'm pressing for further progress towards an open market that makes farmers less dependent on subsidies."
Last week, after a first vote on CAP reform by MEPs, lobby groups warned of a return to the "bad old days" of costly food mountains and lakes of unwanted wine and milk unless the direct link between subsidies to farmers and production is broken.
The biggest complaint about the CAP for decades was the way it encouraged food production regardless of demand because of a system of open-ended subsidies which simply generated warehouses full of rotting produce.
Successive reforms have effectively ended the scandal - but the UK and a group of other countries say more must be done to make the sector self-supporting and competitive.
However, they were outvoted overnight when a majority of ministers agreed that the share of CAP cash subsidies linked to production should actually increase.
Mr Paterson said the UK, which had done most to decouple payments, would fight a move which would allow between 7% and 12% of subsidies from the farm budget to be continue to be "coupled payments".
"The UK and our allies are clear that coupled payments are part of the past," said Mr Paterson. "It's disappointing that the council proposed the continue, but today's agreement is still a clear improvement on the European Parliament's proposal for 15% or even 18%. We continue to fight for a common low rate."
But he welcomed an agreement that national authorities should have more control to shape proposed CAP greening measures to regional needs.
"The UK should have the freedom to have a simple, easy-to-manage system that builds on our well-established arrangements," he said.
"We're now one very important step closer to being able to set our own greening measures, which work for farmers and use taxpayers' money more effectively to deliver real environmental benefit."