Arguments flared up in the European parliament on Tuesday (18 November) over the issues of modulation and milk quotas.

MEPs meeting for their monthly plenary session in Strasbourg were debating the EU Commission’s CAP “health check” proposals ahead of their vote on the package on Wednesday.

One of the commission’s main ideas is to increase the amount it takes from farmers’ single farm payments to finance rural development – from the current 5% to 13% by 2012.

On top of this, it wants to impose more “progressive” modulation on farmers receiving large SFP payments, with 3% extra cuts above €100,000, 6% extra above €200,000 and 9% extra above €300,000.

The European parliament’s agriculture committee has suggested this should be more limited, with compulsory modulation rising to just 7%, and progressive modulation set at 1%, 2% and 3% for the different thresholds.

But some MEPs in Strasbourg deplored the whole concept of modulation.

“Any increase is simply putting your hand into the pocket of Europe’s farmers,” said Irish MEP Maria Harkin. “The value of the single farm payment has fallen by 15% since 2005 due to inflation alone, yet this proposal is to cut it further.”

Slovakian MEP Peter Bacho said more modulation was unfair on farms that were consolidating to become more efficient.

But EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said MEPs had a mistaken view of modulation.

“You think it means taking money away from farmers. But this is not the case,” she said. “We need modulation to meet the new challenges and we need to bolster farmers’ opportunities to make the investments to meet them.”

The fact modulation should also be co-funded by national governments meant the overall rural budget should actually increase.

There was also dissent over the plan to expand milk quotas, to ensure a “soft landing” before they are removed in 2015.

The EU Commission wants a 5% increase, spread out over the next five years. But the European parliament’s agriculture committee has suggested just 1% in 2009 and 1% in 2010, to be followed by a review before deciding on further action.

MEPs have tabled numerous amendments on milk quota, ranging from no increases at all to a 5% increase every year.

Mrs Fischer Boel said the commission’s proposal struck the right balance. “I am surprised there is so much resistance to milk quota increases when last year we got from EU milk producers some €338m in superlevy,” she told the Strasbourg meeting.