Discussions on the methodology for designating areas of Natural or specific constraint, currently known as Less Favoured Areas, has been ongoing for some years. In conjunction with the Joint Research Centre, the EU Commission has proposed a system for designation for the next round which is based on eight biophysical criteria which must be met at a certain threshold level. These criteria relate to (1) low temperature, (2) dryness, (3) excess soil moisture, (4) limited soil drainage, (5) unfavourable texture and stoniness, (6) shallow rooting depth (7) poor chemical properties and (8) steep slope. In addition 10% of a Member State’s territory may be designated as areas facing specific constraint without the need to meet the biophysical criteria.
The new method of designation is included in the current Rural Development proposal under the CAP reform package. This is a co-decision dossier requiring the agreement of both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament.
The Commission proposed that the new regime would apply from 2014 with provision for degressive payments until 2017 where Member States have not completed the new designation system by 2014. The Council of Ministers took the view that the commencement date for the new regime should be deferred to 2016. It also proposed a number of changes to the qualification thresholds and the cumulation options needed to meet these thresholds. The European Parliament proposed detaching this issue from the CAP reform discussions and proposed that the EU Commission present a revised proposal by 31 December 2014.
The negotiations on reform of the CAP are now the subject of inter-institutional debate in a process of trilogues and it is the outcome of this debate that will determine when the new areas of natural constraint will be designated and the final conditions attaching to such designation.
I am hopeful that we will secure political agreement on CAP reform between the three institutions by the end of this month.