EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is adamant that the 2008 “health check” of the common agricultural policy will not evolve into a full-blown reform, as happened with the “mid-term review” of Agenda 2000.

But, judging by the list of measures already being mooted in Brussels, the impending “session on the doctor’s couch” still looks like being a pretty thorough examination.

In particular, the commissioner wants to use the opportunity to raise the level of compulsory modulation as a way of getting more funds into rural development, currently under-resourced following last year’s EU budget deal.

“Modulation is a splendid idea,” she told a recent lunch meeting with the Eurofarm Group of EU farming editors in Brussels. “But it must be on the same level in all member states.” If it was set high enough, EU modulation could even remove the need for voluntary national modulation, which Mrs Fischer Boel sees as discriminatory against farmers.

Pressed on what level of compulsory modulation might be appropriate, the commissioner said that 20%, as originally proposed for the mid-term review, “seems like a reasonable figure”. She added: “This money will still be available to farmers through rural development.”

Flat-rate method

Mrs Fischer Boel said she would like to see some progress made towards a flat-rate method of single farm payment, with all farmers getting the same – at least within a member state, if not throughout the whole of the EU.

She also wanted to look again at capping payments to individual farmers as part of the 2008 health check, though she acknowledged the problems this could face with farmers just splitting their holdings into smaller units.

The commissioner noted that there were significant problems at the other end of the scale, too, with large numbers of small claimants clogging up the system. “It was never intended that someone with less than 1ha and a couple of goats should be able to receive direct payments,” she said. It was ridiculous that these “farmers” were receiving less than it cost to actually process their claims.

The 2008 health check would also provide an opportunity to press ahead with simplifying the CAP – starting with cross-compliance. While the commission did not want to lose sight of the goals of cross-compliance – “farmers should not be getting money for doing nothing” – there was plenty of scope to streamline it.

Export subsidies

Mrs Fischer Boel said she had not decided whether to press on with the EU’s offer to the World Trade Organisation to end all export subsidies, even if the Doha Development Round collapsed altogether. “But we will still come under pressure anyway from the developing countries about our export refunds, and we might lose.”

Similarly, the days of milk quotas were probably numbered, with the commission looking to send a clear signal that quotas would not be around after the 2014/15 milk year. A report on the state of the dairy sector would be published at the end of 2007 and Mrs Fischer Boel “could imagine a situation where quotas will increase before 2014”.

The commissioner also indicated that more emphasis would be put on encouraging the production of renewable energy sources from agriculture following the 2008 health check.