Common Agricultural Policy - July 2013
George Lyon MEP
Although there are almost as many languages spoken in Brussels as there are member states, the European Union has always had a language of its own. In the Commission and the Parliament, acronyms are ubiquitous. And over the few months, the agenda has been dominated by two of the biggest three letter acronyms of all – CAP and MFF.
Debates over the Common Agricultural Policy have traditionally been fractious. With 27 different member states with competing agendas at the table this is perhaps not a surprise. In the UK, of course, the situation is made more complex by the fact that Scotland and other parts of the country have different priorities. As one of the European Parliament’s negotiating team I was involved in a marathon series of talks that finally came to fruition last month.
All sides knew that it was vital that we reached agreement before the summer recess. A delay would have come as a real blow to farmers across Europe who were waiting to see what the deal would mean for their businesses.
Is the deal perfect? No. I had tabled amendments that would have seen proposed cuts in direct payments distributed more effectively across the EU. The changes that were proposed will hit Scottish farmers disproportionately as a result of the relatively large average size of our farms. Unfortunately, my bid to ensure that cuts were spread more fairly across farms of all sizes was defeated at Committee in Brussels.
Nevertheless, there is much in the final agreement that can be welcomed. On greening and other issues the UK was able to secure a good deal for Scotland. We knew that it was important that the final settlement gave us the flexibility to implement changes in the way that works best for Scotland. This was something that UK Ministers fought for during negotiations and I know that the industry was pleased with the discretion that the Scottish Government will have in this area. The focus now shifts to the Scottish Parliament, where we need to see action from Ministers to ensure that farmers are aware of what impact the new rules will have in Scotland.
They say that money makes the world go round and this is as true at the EU as anywhere else. If CAP talks were complicated, talks on the Multiannual Financial Framework were on another level altogether.
As Vice-chair of the EU Parliament Budget Committee, I have long believed that MEPs must take action to ensure that EU monies are spent more efficiently and more effectively. At a time when people across Europe are having to tighten their belts this is only right. Ahead of formal negotiations, we had already begun to make savings with a planned 5% reduction in staff numbers across all the EU institutions and a similar 5% cut in MEP allowances coming into effect this year.
The fact that member states had already agreed an overall cut in the EU budget was welcome. But there were big questions over the fine detail of the new settlement which needed to be answered. Even as talks entered the final stages there were still real differences of opinion between the council and the European Parliament’s negotiating team. At one point, negotiations descended into farce after it was reported a deal had been done before agreement had been reached.
Liberal Democrats in Brussels have consistently argued that the EU needs to be spending a smaller budget more effectively. We need to be focusing spending in those areas that will create jobs, support growth and help us build a stronger European economy.
The final deal thrashed out between member states, the Parliament and the Commission confirmed the overall cut agreed by Ministers last year. The agreement also means that the EU will have greater freedom to move money around to where it is needed, and included a big increase in spending on research and development. This is good news for the UK, which is one of the biggest beneficiaries of this funding and for Europe as a whole.
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