The reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is hanging in the balance over concerns financial problems in the eurozone could hammer EU budgets.

EU officials admit unprecedented economic conditions mean timetables to agree spending across the union and on the CAP from 2014-2020 could be missed.

If member states do not agree the multi-annual financial framework – the overall EU budget – next month, plans to finalise spending on the CAP could be pushed back to 2013.

And with MEPs on the agriculture committee refusing to vote on proposed changes to the CAP until spending on agriculture is agreed, the deadline to agree a new-look policy before the end of the current parliament looks strained, officials have warned.

“If there are big cuts to the CAP it will be very difficult to reach an agreement in the proposals we have at the moment.”
Paulo de Castro, chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee

If the plans cannot be agreed before then, the current CAP proposals could be scrapped and negotiations would have to start all over again with a new team of MEPs and officials, possibly leaving rural development payments in jeopardy.

Paulo de Castro, chairman of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee, said current recommendations for CAP reform were on the basis of maintaining the current level of spending.

“If there are big cuts to the CAP it will be very difficult to reach an agreement in the proposals we have at the moment,” he said.

“If we don’t get what we want, we will need more time to work on compromises. We can’t envisage the same policy with different budgets.”

Irish Conservative and Unionist MEP James Nicholson warned any alternatives to the current proposals had to be agreed by June or the whole round of negotiations would “go down the plughole”.

Budgets needed to be agreed quickly if reform had any hope of being passed in time, he added.

“If there is no agreement, under Pillar 1 (direct support) it goes down to existing budgets. Where we have a problem is Pillar 2 (rural development), because there’s no legal basis after 2013.

“We are working to achieve reform, but if it is unworkable we have to fall back on plan B, which doesn’t exist at the moment.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP and agriculture committee member George Lyon warned that without a legal platform to start a new round of spending on Pillar 2, there would be no legal basis to pay out more than half of the CAP to farmers. “We are seeking legal clarification, but that issue should really concentrate the minds of the commission and the parliament to come to an agreement in time.”

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