Ideas to make direct payments for farmers fairer across the EU and simplify checks on how they spend the money were tabled by Agriculture Committee MEPs on Tuesday, as input to the post-2014 farm policy reform package. MEPs also welcomed proposals to prolong wine planting rights and sugar quotas, but said that "greening" measures should be better tailored to the needs of each Member State.
"Now, we get into a delicate and complex stage. After several months of debate, Parliament's proposals have been tabled for a modern and flexible Common Agricultural Policy to make farmers' lives easier and cut red tape; We will be on schedule with the reform only if Parliament and the Council engage in a dialogue on the proposals presented today", said Agriculture Committee Chair Paolo de Castro (S&D, IT).
Plans to do more to reduce inequalities in direct payments to farmers in different parts of the EU were outlined by rapporteur Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (S&D, PT). "We need to reduce those differences and the process needs to be speeded up", he said.
These plans were welcomed as "fair and appropriate" by Martin Häusling (Greens/EFA, DE) but criticised as going too far by others. In some Member States, "rapid reduction of support would lead to closure of farms" argued Michel Dantin (EPP, FR).
Yet "less unfair means still unfair", countered Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR, PL), calling for fair competitive conditions for all EU farmers, a call echoed by Sandra Kalniete (EPP, LV) and Hynek Fajmon (ECR, CZ).
The idea of reducing direct payments by a higher percentage than the Commission originally proposed for farms receiving more than €250,000 was vigorously rejected as "unfair" by some MEPs, including John Stuart Agnew (EFD, UK) and George Lyon (ALDE, UK). Iratxe García Pérez (S&D, ES), argued that cooperatives must be exempted from this proposal, which would otherwise discourage farmers from joining forces to boost their bargaining power.
The definition of "active farmer" should be simplified to exclude entities not entitled to EU-funded direct payments, argued Mr Capoulas Santos. The list of such entities should be expanded to include airports, real estate companies, campsites, sport grounds, mining and transport companies, he added.
Strict spending controls but less red tape
The way in which EU money is spent must be stringently controlled, but today's system of checks and sanctions should be simplified so as "not to waste farmers' precious time" or "swamp them in paper" said rapporteur on financing, management and monitoring Giovanni La Via (EPP, IT).
Many MEPs welcomed his suggestions that farmers should not be obliged to resubmit their aid applications each year unless there is a change and that they should be given early warnings to enable them to remedy any irregularities before being penalised.
Wine and sugar
Wine sector planting rights should be maintained "until at least 2030" and sugar quotas should be prolonged until the 2019-2020 marketing year, said rapporteur on the common organisation of markets Michel Dantin. Under the Commission proposal, wine planting rights could be phased out by 1 January 2016 and sugar quotas would expire by the end of September 2015.
Prolonging sugar quotas was favoured by many MEPs such as Albert Dess (EPP, DE), but others, including Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE) and Wojciech Michał Olejniczak (S&D, PL) argued that the system does not enjoy public support and should be lifted.
More flexible greening
Mandatory "greening measures" linked to the direct payments should be more flexible and include special arrangements for farms smaller than than 20 hectares while those below 5 hectares should be completely exempt, said Mr Capoulas Santos.
Several MEPs, including Mairead MacGuinness (EPP, IE) and James Nicholson (ECR, UK), called for a "menu" of greening measures from which EU Member States could choose. Mr Capoulas Santos replied that the proposals already offered such flexibility, by providing for a range of "environmental certification schemes".
To bring fresh blood into the farming community, rural development funds should finance bank guarantees to help young farmers into long-term lease contracts, argued Mr Capoulas Santos.
Farmers over 65 years old who have been farming for at least 10 years should be entitled to a payment of up to €35,000 if they retire and transfer their holding and corresponding payment entitlements to another farmer, he added.
The retirement scheme will "incentivise land mobility" and "encourage young and new entrants to engage in farming activities" argued Liam Aylward (ALDE, IE). However, many MEPs, including José Bové (Greens/EFA, FR), objected that this would create an incentive to quit farming, when just the opposite is needed.
The deadline for tabling amendments to the draft reports is 9 July (direct payments, financing management and monitoring) and 10 July (rural development, common market organisation).
The committee vote is foreseen for late autumn, depending on progess in negotiations on the future multiannual financial framework (MFF) 2014-2020. The final shape of the new EU farm policy will be co-decided by the Parliament and the Council. The reformed CAP is to enter into force on 1 January 2014.
Monday, 18 June and Tuesday, 19 June
Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development
In the chair: Paolo de Castro (S&D, IT)