PositionCommon Agricultural Policy

Steering negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) towards a happy ending will be the Irish Presidency's main task in the coming months. However, to achieve this, Dublin will need to work against the clock. The impasse in talks on the long-term EU budget (the multiannual financial framework, MFF) left the CAP reform negotiations practically blocked in December 2012, with both member states and the European Parliament reluctant to take further steps. A deal on the MFF in February or early March at the latest might put the process back on track. It is highly uncertain, however, whether Dublin will manage to tick all the remaining boxes before its Presidency terminates at the end of June, which also marks the deadline for the CAP agreement. It must not only facilitate compromises among member states based on a significantly reduced agricultural budget for the years 2014-2020 - an option being proposed under the MFF talks - but also convince the Commission and MEPs to sign up to it during the three-way talks due to start in March. This, according to veterans of past negotiations, would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Usually cautious about providing a plan B' in the middle of negotiations, the Commission admitted recently to working on transitional measures to be put in place in the event CAP reform is delayed. Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos conceded, on 10 December in Brussels, that it will be impossible for the reformed direct payment system to be ready in 2014. A "transitional" year will have to take place since member state paying agencies will not have enough time to get ready for January 2014, he added. The Commission still insists, however, that agreement on the CAP reform should be reached in the middle of 2013 at the latest. Any further slippage might additionally complicate the whole process. With the German federal elections scheduled for autumn 2013 and the European Parliament elections taking place in June 2014, reaching a compromise at a later stage would not be any easier.

The Irish Presidency will have to work hard to secure a compromise on the level of ambition of the reform package. This hinges to a large extent on the result of the MFF talks...

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