Paolo De Castro        
Main challenge for farmers to produce more and pollute less - Paolo De Castro  

History and budget merge in the Common Agricultural Policy, making it one of the most important action plans for the EU. The discussion about the future CAP is not only crucial for farmers but for all European citizens, since it deals with the challenge of food security, Agriculture Committee Chair Paolo De Castro said as negotiations start on a new EU farm policy for 2014-2020.

The main challenge for European farmers will be to "produce more, but pollute less", he said, stressing the importance of a reliable CAP budget in order to meet the challenge of food supply. The Italian Socialist said that the farm budget, which accounts for around 40% of the total EU budget, is modest compared to other big economies: "There are 2 million farmers in the US and their budget is twice as big as the EU's. We have 10 million farmers. We went from 15 to 27 countries with the same budget."


Greening measures could lead to more bureaucracy, less productivity


There has been a widespread criticism of the "greening element" in the European Commission proposal for CAP reform, particularly of setting 7% of farmed land aside for ecological purposes. De Castro fears that the proposal could lead to more bureaucracy, which would be an additional burden for EU farmers. The proposed measures would "keep production down instead of promoting it", he said. "I don't think that this is the best way to increase European agricultural potential because, after all, what we need in the future is to produce more food in a sustainable way. How can I for instance explain to people who produce olive trees that they have to reduce by 7%? Do they have to cut their trees down? I don't think it's the correct way to go."


He also says the Commission proposals will harm flexibility: "We need more flexibility. With 27 member states and 27 types of agriculture; it's not possible to apply the rules in the same way. Not all countries are ready to do that.  Some countries need more time to introduce flat rates. The Commission doesn't take into account that the situation is different in different countries; we are not all at the same starting point. Secondly, there is the problem of market measures. We proposed the introduction of new tools (in a June EP resolution), but we don't see any new tools in the proposals." 


A fairer distribution between West and East


There are different payment systems in place for the 15 older EU countries and the 12 countries that joined in 2004 and 2007 and these systems need to be aligned. The balancing of views from "older" and "newer" member states has its challenges, De Castro says and in order for talks to progress there will have to be compromises on both sides. "All the new countries want to move faster with the alignment and I agree with them. We want to achieve alignment in the next 20 to 25 years but at the same time we need to maintain equilibrium....A good equilibrium would be to accept Parliament's proposal for the budget. I hope we can find a good solution but a good budget is a precondition."


EP to play a strong role in negotiations


Historically, the EP has had limited influence over agricultural policy, EU farm ministers took decisions based on a Commission proposal and the EP simply gave its opinion, but with the Lisbon Treaty "the EP has the same power as the Council, which means that we need to work together. Without the positive vote of the Parliament, no reform can be approved," De Castro said.


For the first time on 7 November, the 27 farm ministers and the EP's Agriculture Committee members met to discuss the future perspectives of the CAP. De Castro said the meeting was "very important" as it paved the way for better understanding. "I saw we had a lot of points in common with the Council, so we really hope that the Commission and Council will help us to find a good solution for the future of the agricultural sector."