European Union governments calling for far-reaching reform of the bloc’s farm policy from 2014 were left isolated earlier this month after 20 EU countries signed a joint declaration opposing radical change.
The declaration by EU farm ministers was the last chance for governments to spell out their priorities for the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) before the bloc’s executive makes legislative proposals in October.
Despite containing few detailed proposals and no figures on the future CAP budget – currently worth about 55 billion euros ($77.06 billion) a year – seven EU governments in the meeting said they were unable to endorse the compromise text.
They were: Britain, Sweden, Denmark, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
“The text does not go far enough to reflect our key concerns, namely that the conclusions are not ambitious enough and that they put the reform-orientated direction that the council has previously taken at risk,” a British government spokesman said after the meeting in Brussels.
France has spent months trying to convince other EU countries to back its vision of maintaining a strong CAP with at least the same level of budget, and Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire welcomed the declaration as an endorsement of France’s position.
“It’s a strong political signal of support by governments for the CAP, and for strengthening it in the years to come,” Le Maire said.
He particularly welcomed the backing of Poland, Romania and other newer EU member states for the declaration, given that these countries have called for a redistribution of EU subsidies eastwards from older EU states such as France and Spain.
“For the first time, Poland agreed to join a declaration of European governments on the CAP after 2013,” Le Maire said.
“My conclusion is that there is no opposition between new and old member states, there is a difference between those that want a strong CAP and those that are ready to reject a strong CAP,” he added.
Direct EU subsidies to farmers are calculated on the basis of historical production levels, which means farmers in Greece receive over 500 euros per hectare compared with less than 100 per hectare in Latvia.
In the declaration, ministers said they recognized “the need for a more equitable distribution of direct income support between member states, stepwise reducing the link to historical references.”
Ministers said new objective criteria should be found for distributing direct payments while avoid any sudden change, and Le Maire said Poland and other countries had given up on the idea of a single, flat EU-wide rate.
Responding to the declaration, EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos said it revealed a broad consensus on the main principles of the CAP reform, and backed many of the proposals made by the commission in a policy paper in November.
Ciolos also said that some of the countries that refused to sign the declaration had done so on the basis of a single word here or there.
The European Commission is due to make proposals on the EU’s next long-term budget for 2014-20 by the end of June – including on the future CAP budget – and then adopt detailed legislative proposals on the CAP reform in October.