Funding for European agriculture must be kept at 2013 levels in real terms, said members of the EP Agriculture Committee in a debate on Monday with Commissioner Dacian Cioloş on the Commission's proposed multiannual EU budget for 2014-2020.
Following the presentation of the Commission's proposal for the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) on 29 June, the Agriculture Committee wanted to hear more details from Mr Cioloş about the envisaged reduction in the agriculture budget.
"It is a cut in real terms", said committee chair Paolo de Castro (S&D, IT), who questioned what the consequences of the proposal would be for the ambitious plans for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013.
Parliament adopted a resolution on 23 June calling for the long-term agriculture budget to be maintained at least at 2013 levels. "Parliament has sent a very clear signal that we do not want to see resources being taken away from the CAP", which "needs to respond to the interests of 10 million farmers but also of all the citizens of Europe", said Mr de Castro.
New money available to farmers from different parts of the budget, says Commissioner
"The ball is now in the court of Council and Parliament", said Commissioner Cioloş, who told MEPs that the proposed MFF was based on a freeze of CAP funding at 2013 levels.
The Commission, he stressed, had allocated "new money" to agriculture under different headings, for instance making €2.8 billion from the Globalisation Adjustment Fund available to farmers. In addition, €5.1 billion of 100% EU-funded research and innovation programmes was "clearly intended for the agriculture sector". "This brings us to a total amount of €435.5 billion" for the farming industry, said the Commissioner.
Budget not enough to reflect new tasks imposed on farmers, say MEPs
"Europe is growing and tasks farmers now have are becoming numerous," pointed out Albert Dess (EPP, DE). "We simply cannot accept the CAP being the only sector that is supposed to take cuts." Parliament had spoken out clearly that "we want to keep the CAP budget at its current size... especially given the future challenges."
"This is a long way from what we were expecting", said Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (S&D, PT). "The real cut is between 7% and 15% on the top of funds that have been shifted away from the agriculture budget", he said.
Comparing figures from the previous long-term budget (2007-2014) with the new proposal, George Lyon (ALDE, UK) acknowledged that the additional €15 billion, especially money for research, was good news but could hardly be compared with cuts in direct payments worth approximately €40 billion.
James Nicholson (ECR, UK) highlighted the issue of secure food supplies. "Can this budget live up to what is required?" he asked. Referring to the new option for farmers to access the Globalisation Fund, Mr Nicholson stressed that if this was supposed to be compensation for beef farmers for the deal with Mercosur, it was not enough. "We will not accept sweeteners in this area", he said.
"The ball is now in our court", admitted Lorenzo Fontana (EFD, IT), who welcomed the access for farmers to the Globalisation Fund.
Greening measures welcomed by some, criticised by others
Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) welcomed the budget proposal. "If we are completely honest, about a year ago we were not really sure if we would be able to maintain the figures that we see today", he said. Mr Häusling also welcomed the proposal to link 30% of the first pillar funds (direct payments) to the application of greening measures by farmers, a step criticised as premature by several MEPs including Albert Dess and James Nicholson.
Call for fairer distribution of EU agriculture funds
We need to live up to our promises, argued Alfreds Rubiks (GUE/NGL, LV), who insisted that direct payments must be made fairer. "We have talked a lot about the need to make these payments equal" and yet "by 2020 Latvian farmers are going to get only 52%" of the average level of EU payments. "We should remember that the CAP ... is one of the most important policies keeping the EU together" and broken promises could undermine it.
Demand for sufficient CAP funding underlined at meeting with national MPs
The question of adequate funding for the CAP was also raised at a separate meeting on Tuesday which brought together more than 50 parliamentarians from 22 Member States, MEPs, the Agriculture Commissioner and the Polish Presidency to discuss future challenges and expectations of the new Common Agricultural Policy after 2013. The meeting took place only a few months ahead of the Commission's proposal on reform of the CAP, expected in late autumn 2011.
"The reform we are currently preparing is the first in the fifty-year history of the CAP in which parliamentarians are playing such an important role" said Paolo de Castro (S&D, IT), referring partly to the EP's power of co-decision but also to the increased powers of national parliaments since the Lisbon Treaty.
In the Chair: Paolo DE CASTRO (S&D, IT)