26 February 1999

CAPtalks meet

deadlock, but…

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

NEGOTIATIONS to reform the common agricultural policy reached deadlock mid-week, with few member states prepared to budge from their entrenched positions.

Two compromise papers and two days of talks failed to ease the situation, with background bickering between the French and Germans over financing also souring the atmosphere in Brussels.

But, despite the lack of progress, hopes were still high as FARMERS WEEKLY went to Press (Wed) that farm ministers could broker a deal by the weekend. A new German compromise was due to be discussed yesterday (Thur) and was expected to offer further concessions.

And UK minister Nick Brown was in fighting spirit. "I am going to be among the last to leave," he said. "I am staying here until this thing is finished."

After the first two days of talks failed to produce any results, NFU leader Ben Gill said he was very concerned about the stalemate. "The documents we have seen so far have been silent on many of the key questions, in particular the national envelopes."

The lack of progress was not surprising, however, as the new proposals tabled by the German presidency early in the week showed only minor changes to the EU Commissions original.

The price cuts were the same at 30% for beef, 20% for cereals and 15% for milk, with only partial compensation on offer in the form of direct income aid.

More flexibility was introduced for extensification premium, with payments starting at 2 livestock units/ha instead of the 1.4lu/ha in the original proposal. "This is moving in the right direction," said Irish Farmers Association livestock chairman Raymond OMalley.

Like the British, the Irish were concerned that, with heifers now included in stocking rate calculations, many livestock farmers currently receiving extensification premium would lose out.

The compromise text also paved the way for more suckler cow quota to go to Austria, Finland and Sweden, with Spain and Portugal getting extra entitlement to beef special premium.

UK gain too

Mr Gill said it was important that the UK should get something out of this area of reform, too. With the end of the calf processing scheme in sight, and with parts of the UK suffering annual scalebacks in beef special premium, there was a need for a substantial increase in the UKs regional ceiling.

As for the dairy sector, Mr Gill said he was "violently opposed" to new suggestions that additional quota should be given to Italy, Spain and Greece. "If they get some, we want some too," he said.

On the arable front, he was concerned by a new proposal to cut oilseed area aid to the same rate as cereals in three stages. "This means we will be stuck with the Blair House penalties for another two years, while getting progressively less from the CAP."