The informal meeting of Agriculture Ministers discussed a number of outstanding political issues across all four CAP reform dossiers. In keeping with the normal practice at informal meetings, no binding decisions were made, but the meeting made a very valuable contribution to the ongoing negotiations by giving all three institutions the opportunity to discuss each other’s positions and explore the potential for reaching common ground on these issues.
As regards direct payments, attention focused on the distribution of payments within Member States (also known as internal convergence), capping and reduction of payments (the latter also known as degressivity), and voluntary coupled support. On capping, the Council has a clear mandate from the European Council conclusions on voluntary capping, and much of the discussion focused on the question of whether degressivity should be voluntary or mandatory. On voluntary coupled support, the Parliament argued for a higher level of support than that proposed by the Council.
As to internal convergence, this is clearly the biggest issue for Ireland in the negotiations. There is much common ground between the Parliament and the Council concerning the model of partial convergence originally proposed by Ireland and supported by a number of Member States, as an option for Member States. However, the Commission re-stated its preference for a minimum rate of convergence. Further discussion on the issue of redistribution or internal convergence will take place between now and June and Ireland very clearly raised concerns at the informal Council with regard to the Commission’s proposals on a minimum payment.
Three issues under the Single CMO regulation, namely, sugar quotas, export refunds and vine planting rights, were addressed. On sugar quotas, the main issue is the date of expiry of the quota regime, with the Council position (2017) between the Commission (2015) and Parliament (2020) positions. On export refunds, attention focused on whether this measure should be confined to exceptional or crisis circumstances only, as now suggested by the Parliament, or whether it should remain a normal part of the so-called ‘safety net’ measures, as agreed by the Council last March. On vine planting rights, the debate focused on two key points, namely, the commencement and expiry date of a proposed new authorisations regime, in respect of which the Council generally occupies the middle ground between the Commission and Parliament positions.
As regards the rural development proposals, attention focused on proposed areas of natural constraint (formerly known as less favoured areas), and particularly on the commencement date for the new arrangements, where again, the Council generally occupies the middle ground. Finally, on the so-called ‘horizontal’ regulation, which deals with the financing, management and monitoring of the CAP, discussion centred on the number of paying agencies per Member State, where the Council wants to keep the number to the minimum necessary.