Can and should EU try to keep its farm spending at today's levels, so as to improve conditions for farmers and ward off the threat of a food supply crisis? Or will the agriculture budget have to shrink to make room for more investment in research, economic growth-promoting measures and Member States' demands for substantial cuts in overall EU spending? The Policy Challenges Committee aired these issues in a lively debate with agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş on Thursday.
Agriculture accounts for roughly 40% of the EU budget and was the first to be examined in a series of Policy Challenges Committee debates on various parts of the budget.
A budget to match ambitions
"What is your position on the volume of the budget? Would the level of the current budget be enough? asked Policy Challenges Committee rapporteur Salvador Garriga Polledo (EPP, ES).
"We have provided for a very ambitious proposal for the future common agricultural policy (CAP). The budget should be at the same level as the ambitions", replied Commissioner Cioloş, adding that a cut in the CAP would probably lead to increases in national farm spending, thus not achieve any overall saving for the Member States.
Competing for resources
Finnish Liberal Carl Haglund and others pointed out that the difficult economic situation in the Member States and the competition with other budget areas, like research and growth, makes it very hard to increase the agriculture budget in the next budgeting period. He also asked the Commissioner for details of the link between agriculture policy and the EU's 2020 strategy for becoming EU a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy by 2020.
"The CAP delivers sustainable growth in rural areas. Green growth is something we could not achieve without agriculture", replied Mr Ciolos.
Bas Eickhout (Greens/EFA, NL), wanted more details about how the CAP can become greener and how CAP reform will affect developing countries.
"In 2010, we used less than one percent of the CAP for export refunds. 10 or 15 years ago, the figure was far above 10 percent", said the Commissioner, adding that the EU imports more food from the developing countries than other comparable economic areas.
"When it comes to funding public goods, such as food security, mitigating climate change etc, this is all the duty of farmers. We are not going to get all this with less money than we have in recent years", the Policy Challenges Committee chair Jutta Haug (S&D, DE) added in her concluding remarks.
The Special Committee on Policy Challenges was set up last summer to prepare Parliament's view on EU's next long term budget framework, starting after 2013. A final report will be voted in plenary session in June, just before the Commission presents its proposal for a new budget framework.
In the chair: Jutta Haug (S&D, DE)