Fairer, greener farm and fisheries policies
The EU's farm and fishing policies have been at the heart of the European project for decades, seeking to provide adequate food supplies for EU citizens and fair incomes for farmers and fishermen.
With EU enlargement, demand for high-quality food, volatile prices, imbalances in the food supply chain, climate change and dwindling fish stocks, major overhauls of both policies are vital.
Parliament was at the centre of these reform efforts. It adopted clear and ambitious mandates for negotiations with national governments on the new regimes in early 2013 and got member states on board for the most important aspects of both reforms.
It wants fairer subsidies and prices for farmers, with more emphasis on protecting the environment, animal welfare and consumers.
MEPs forced through a new, sustainable fisheries regime with the aim of stopping overfishing by obliging member states to cut excessive fisheries quotas, restore sustainable fish stocks and ban discards of unwanted catches.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was first introduced 50 years ago and last reformed in 2003. Parliament insisted, in its demands for reform adopted in March 2013, that farmers must do more for the environment under the new rules. It backed plans to make a third of direct payments to farmers conditional on compliance with three mandatory greening practices: crop diversification; maintaining permanent grassland and pasture; and creating ecological focus areas, which could consist, for example, of hedgerows, land left fallow, or afforested areas on part of their farms.
MEPs nevertheless insisted throughout the negotiations on making these measures more flexible, for example to reflect the size of a farm, and gradual – to allow farmers more time to adjust without jeopardising their production levels and thus the food supply.
Parliament brought up to date and strengthened EU animal and plant-health rules designed to contain the spread of pests in the EU and eradicate the most dangerous ones and to tackle outbreaks of animal diseases such as Bluetongue, African swine fever or Avian influenza.
MEPs put more emphasis on prevention and insisted on the responsible use of veterinary medicines. They also gave the Commission limited powers to act quickly in emergencies, fine-tuned rules on imports of potentially dangerous plants and adopted measures to curb any influx of invasive alien species of plants, animals or insects into the EU.
Parliament rejected a highly controversial draft law on plant reproductive materials, known as the seed regulation, on the grounds that it failed to simplify the rules and promote innovation and would give the Commission too much power, leaving member countries with no leeway to adapt the rules to their needs.
Parliament also demanded tougher inspections and deterrent sanctions for those who break animal welfare rules or mislead EU consumers by falsely labelling food products as, for example, in the horse meat scandal. They called for better welfare conditions, including cutting transport times when animals are taken for slaughter.
Parliament had long been pressing for ambitious reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), first adopted in the 1970s and revised several times since then, most recently in 2002.
In their blueprint for fisheries reform, adopted in December 2013 after reaching agreement with the Council in May 2013, MEPs demanded that member states be prevented from setting fish quotas for their fishermen that are too high. Under the new rules, fishermen must fish sustainably to ensure that stocks are not fished beyond the limit at which they can reproduce, and that stocks can be replenished in a given year. MEPs also obtained a discard ban with fishing vessels required to land at least 95% of all catches. Parliament fought hard to keep this figure as high as possible, just short of a total ban.
It also secured better use of multiannual management plans that will help EU fish to recover in the longer term. MEPs point out that, ultimately, more fish in EU seas will help to maintain or even increase the number of jobs in the fishing industry.
Parliament also backed new rules for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), in January 2014. This fund, which provides financial support for the implementation of the reformed CFP, will help fishermen to comply with the new rules, for example by supporting investments in more selective fishing gear in order to respect the new discard ban. Parliament's negotiators secured more money for data collection for better fisheries management, and made sure young fishermen are supported.
In addition, Parliament has fought to stop deforestation throughout the world, with its immense consequences for the environment and local habitats. It concluded agreements with Indonesia, Cameroun, Congo, Central African Republic and Liberia to halt illegal logging and degradation of rain forests.
From the very beginning of the EU farm policy reform debate, Parliament was intent on making direct payments for farmers fairer across the EU and insisted that EU funds should go only to active farmers and not to landowners unless they farm their land.
To address huge variations between the levels of direct support received by farmers in different member states, Parliament secured a fairer distribution of EU funds to ensure that no EU farmer gets less than 60% of the EU average in 2019. Parliament also made sure that payments for bigger farms will be reduced.
To increase transparency and show how EU funds are being spent, MEPs demanded that the names of all those who benefit from the EU's agricultural budget, except small farmers, are published.
To introduce fresh blood into the ageing farming sector, Parliament persuaded the member states that they must now allocate a share of the EU farm budget to helping young farmers, which was not mandatory before, and that they should have the option of setting up an improved support scheme for small farmers.
Parliament backed plans to create an income stabilisation tool, by means of contributions to mutual funds, to compensate farmers in the event of a severe drop in income. The EU will also contribute to premiums for crop, animal and plant insurance against the risk of economic losses caused by adverse climatic events or by animal or plant diseases.
To guarantee fair incomes for farmers and to stabilise the food supply chain, Parliament fought hard to ensure that the position of farmers in this chain would be strengthened. Farmers' organisations in the olive oil, beef, cereals and protein crops sectors will be allowed to negotiate supply contracts on behalf of their members without falling foul of competition law.
Parliament pushed for sugar quotas to continue beyond 2015 and agreed with member states to extend them until 2017, to allow beet producers more time to adjust to the liberalisation of the sector. MEPs also insisted on retaining the system for regulating vine planting until 2030 in order to preserve the reputation of quality EU wines.
From the very beginning of the reform talks, Parliament insisted that farmers should not spend more time on paperwork than on farming. MEPs cut unnecessary red tape while improving controls over the spending of EU money. They also pushed for more proportionate sanctions for breaching rules and an alert system that would ask farmers to remedy inconsistencies before sanctions are applied.
MEPs also improved the EU-sponsored promotion policy to help farmers boost their sales in the EU and abroad. They increased the EU's share of funding for it and ensured that the EU will be able to launch campaigns quickly to restore normal market conditions and lost consumer confidence if the market slumps or consumer trust is lost, as happened, for example, in 2011 when Spanish cucumbers were wrongly blamed for causing the E.coli outbreak,
Parliament fought for the growing number of the Union's most deprived citizens to be able to benefit from the EU-wide food distribution aid and basic material assistance scheme. It prevented it from being axed and convinced member states to reinstate its original budget of €3.5 billion.