No 'black hole' on CAP reform, pledges Brussels

Taken from Farmers Weekly 7th November 2012

Special measures could be introduced to stop farmers from falling into a bureaucratic black hole caused by delays to CAP reform.

Brussels said it could introduce temporary measures to avoid a legal void after MEPs postponed an important vote on CAP reform proposals. The delay has prompted renewed concern that the reform timetable is too tight for a new CAP agreement to come into effect from January 2014.

MEPs are now expected to vote on the reform package in January - drastically tightening the timetable for Brussels to achieve a full CAP agreement. The NFU estimates 5,000 farmers, including many upland producers, could be affected if a reformed CAP cannot be agreed in time.

NFU senior CAP adviser Gail Soutar said delays were not a problem for direct support payments under the Single Payment Scheme (SPS). Basic legislation was already in place to allow the SPS to roll on on a year-by-year basis, she said.

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But the situation was less rosy for farmers who relied heavily on environmental scheme payments. Ms Soutar said: "If there is no new rural development regulation agreed - or no transitional rules put in place that rolls-on the current programme - then those farmers will be left stranded."

"The indication that the European Parliament Agriculture Committee will not be able to vote on its position until January will probably put additional pressure on the timetable for negotiations, but we remain optimistic that we can finalise a political agreement in the first half of next year."
European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos

She added: "Farmers whose agri-environment commitments come to an end after the 31 December 2013 deadline will have no alternative rural development support schemes to apply for. In essence, those farmers will fall into a policy hiatus."

A spokesman for European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos insisted a deal was still possible on time as long as MEPs and agriculture ministers from member states honoured their respective responsibilities. "The commission is certainly ready to play its role," he told Farmers Weekly.

"The indication that the European Parliament Agriculture Committee will not be able to vote on its position until January will probably put additional pressure on the timetable for negotiations, but we remain optimistic that we can finalise a political agreement in the first half of next year."

Even so, any deal is still dependent on the wider 2014-2020 EU budget being agreed before the end of this year. The challenge will then be to finalise the implementing rules - and for member states to clarify various options left open to them.

The commission was continuing to work towards a 1 January 2014 implementation date, said the spokesman. But he added: "If the timetable becomes too short, the commission can come forward with temporary measures to avoid a legal void.

"But we are keen to avoid this because it will complicate the management of multi-annual rural development plans and reduce the transition period for changes to direct payments - in other words, any changes would be more abrupt."