Farm ministers agree EU CAP reform plan

"Victory" for the environment, says Commission; only half a deal, say green NGOs

European Union farm ministers ended a marathon round of negotiations in the early hours of this morning with final agreement on the largest reform of the common agriculture policy (CAP) since the scheme was started in the 1960s.

The deal, which could still be amended by EU heads of state at a summit meeting later this month, aims to freeze CAP spending by 2006, well after the stabilisation date proposed by the European Commission. EU price support measures for milk, beef and arable produce are to be cut, though generally by less than the Commission asked for. Countervailing direct "compensation payments" to farmers to be stepped up in their place. A new rural development policy will become a second pillar of the CAP.

In an initial reaction to the news today, EU environment commissioner Ritt Bjerregaard described the compromise deal as a "real victory" for the environment. The reform negotiations had been a "first test of [agriculture] ministers' readiness to take environment seriously," she said - "the first genuine attempt to promote integration".

Ms Bjerregaard conceded that some of the European Commission's proposals intended to "green" the CAP had been lost during fierce negotiations. But she stressed that when fully implemented the reform would mean that environmental conditions could be attached to 80% or more of the total of EU farm spending. The commissioner also welcomed the explicit mention of organic farming introduced in the new rural development regulation, noting that she would "continue to fight" for further improvements (ENDS Daily 29 January).

European environmental groups reacted with disappointment to the deal, though, reiterating their position that the Commission's original proposals had been "weak" on environmental issues and arguing that the new agreement was a further "backslide". New green elements of the CAP such as environmental conditions to payments and agri-environmental programmes remained "at the fringe" of the CAP, said the main coalition group the European Environmental Bureau (EEB).

Moreover, the EEB said, positive impacts from the agreement remained "entirely dependent on the willingness of member states" to implement them. Therefore, it concluded, the deal delivered "many opportunities but not one single guarantee for a more sustainable agriculture policy".

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111; European Commission, tel: +32 2 295 1111; EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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