Farm leaders and policy makers are gearing up for a crucial meeting in Luxembourg next week that could decide the future of long-awaited CAP reform.
The Irish government, which holds the current EU presidency, has been aiming to strike a deal at next week’s EU Farm Council meeting in Luxembourg (24-25 June).
Negotiations have been continuing all week between MEPs and EU member state representatives amid reports of “frenetic” last-minute lobbying.
It is understood that disagreements remain over the future of direct payments and the “greening” of the CAP, whereby farmers receive funds for taking out environmental measures on farm.
With the deal still hanging in the balance, a live debate between agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos and the European Parliament agriculture committee chair, Paolo De Castro, took place in Brussels on Thursday (20 June).
Mr Ciolos said “significant progress” had been made and all the elements for a deal were in place for next week.
However, any deal would not be struck at the Farm Council meeting in Luxembourg, but in a trialogue involving the EU parliament, commission and council in Brussels on Wednesday (26 June).
Mr De Castro said negotiations would continue in Luxembourg, but he hoped the final trialogue on CAP reform would be completed in Brussels on Wednesday.
If an agreement cannot be reached by the end of next week, then talks will resume under the Lithuanian presidency from July onwards.
Speaking ahead of a next week’s Farm Council meeting, Northern Ireland’s agriculture minister Michelle O’Neill said CAP negotiations were “intensifying” and “every effort was being made” to reach a deal before the end of June.
“I would describe the negotiations on CAP reform as being very fluid at this stage, with many key issues still to be resolved,” she added.
“I will be seeking to protect many of the positive amendments that have come forward over the last few months on greening and moving towards a flat rate payment, as well as seeking further movement on issues such as the active farmer definition.”
Mrs O’Neill said she would be working closely with devolved and DEFRA ministers to get the “best deal possible”.
But a spokesman from British Agriculture Bureau office in Brussels said: “It remains to be seen whether a deal will be reached next week.
“We are in unchartered waters with MEPs having equal power to shape the new CAP with the Agriculture Council and we are seeing an inevitable power struggle. We are in daily contact with the chief negotiators to make sure the UK farmers’ voice is heard regardless of when a deal is reached.”
Peter Fane, a prinicipal consultant at Eurinco, the EU agricultural consultancy, said: “If we do not get an agreement in the next few days, it probably will not happen until after the EU elections next year.
“Who knows whether Mr Ciolos will still be there then? There’s a good chance he will, but there’s no guarantee.
“If negotiations start again next October, the new system may not come into force before 2016. This will leave us in a period of continuing uncertainty. That’s why it’s a critical few days.”