26 November 1998
CAP reform in doldrums as ministers lock horns
By Philip Clarke
CAP reform reached an impasse in Brussels this week, with farm and finance ministers jockeying for position.
On Monday (23 November), finance ministers said they could not agree the future funding arrangements until they had a clear idea of what the new policy looked like. But farm ministers said on Tuesday they could not decide on the details of Agenda 2000 until they knew what the financial framework was.
With these two aspects now inextricably linked, attention is focused on Vienna, where heads of state will discuss the future funding at their summit on 11 December. But real progress is not expected until February, when the German presidency plans a special informal meeting of EU leaders to resolve the financing issue – both in terms of member state contributions and distribution of funds.
Despite this, farm ministers this week reiterated their intent to get CAP reform wrapped up next March, and are setting up a new group to tackle the next stage of intensive negotiations.
Farm council president, Wilhelm Molterer, said there was already political agreement on the need for reform and of having a rural development policy as a second pillar to conventional farm support. But the details of the new commodity regimes and horizontal measures, bringing in environmental and employment considerations, were still wide open.
Evidence of this is provided by a new council report highlighting areas of agreement a disagreement.
For example, in the arable sector there is broad acceptance that intervention prices should be cut, though not necessarily by the 20% proposed by EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler. But there is a wide range of opinion on the question of compensation.
Similarly with set-aside, most delegations agree it should be retained as a management tool. But, while some want it set at 0%, others are suggesting 5% or 10%.
Most member states, however, oppose the commissions plan to put oilseeds at the same rate of area aid as cereals.
In the beef sector, there is again consensus on the need to cut prices to achieve better market balance. But the 80% compensation on offer through headage payments is challenged, both in terms of its level and its distribution. There is general recognition of a need for a fairer share out between intensive and extensive producers.