'Now or never' for reform of Common Agricultural Policy
As British farmers urge politicians to ensure that a new-look Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should help progressive agriculture, a Westcountry MEP has warned the whole process could collapse.
That, in the long run, would be very harmful, cautions Julie Girling, Conservative MEP for South West England.
MEPs are due for a marathon CAP vote on Wednesday and Thursday in the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee. It will be the first step towards a reformed CAP, which is already running late and will not now be implemented until January 2015.
But there are many hurdles to cross, and Mrs Girling is worried there may, in the end, be no agreement whatsoever.
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She said: "While this may spare us the traumas of the Commission's greening proposals, it would not allow our rural areas to plan with any certainty for the future, nor would it help agriculture in Europe to become more efficient and competitive, which is the key challenge for agriculture in the 21st century."
In total, MEPs have submitted nearly 8,000 amendments to the European Commission's controversial CAP reform proposals since they were published last year – hence the marathon session.
British farmers have urged MEPs to strip out the bureaucracy in the proposals and focus on providing the conditions for farmers to thrive. Once the package clears both the Agriculture Committee and the European Parliament, negotiations could take up to six months.
"The CAP is a huge package and in normal circumstances such negotiations would take well over a year," Mrs Girling explained. "There are still many unresolved issues, such as how to approach greening.
"In order to get an agreement in such a timeframe, with such diverging visions of the future, the Irish presidency is promising to devote every second to this task. If the Irish fail to get an agreement, the new CAP will not come into force in 2015 and, with the Lithuanian and Greek presidencies to follow, along with European elections and a new Commission, there may be no agreement whatsoever."
But the Irish were approaching their task with hyperactivity, firm in the belief that there will be an agreement by the end of June, she said.
National Farmers' Union deputy president Meurig Raymond said: "We have sifted through the 8,000 amendments to identify which should be supported in the vote – namely those that will strip out unnecessary bureaucracy, provide the conditions for farmers to thrive in an open market and allow our producers to compete on a level playing field with the rest of Europe.
"In particular, we are supporting measures to change the greening proposals which would add huge administrative complexity and create a sizeable dent in our productive capacity."