The NFU has issued a ‘could do better’ message to Defra after key negotiations between EU member states over the terms of the new Common Agricultural Policy this week.

European agriculture ministers met on Monday and Tuesday this week to thrash out their position on the CAP reform proposals.

Defra hailed agreements on several key elements of the CAP. They included a concession allowing England to reward farmers’ environmental (‘greening’) measures through its own national scheme, rather than through a parallel EU scheme. The Council also agreed that sugar beet quotas will end in 2017 instead of 2020, something the UK had pushed for with ally member states.

“Sugar beet quotas are bad for business and bad for consumers. They are driving up the wholesale price of sugar by 35% and adding 1% to hard-pressed families’ food bills,” said environment secretary Owen Paterson.

“The NFU will continue to work with the MEPs and representatives of the Council and Commission to continue the fight for a more common policy” - Peter Kendall, NFU

The NFU welcomed the news on greening measures, but said it was disappointed that coupled support (payments linked to production) could be increased beyond current levels. It was also unhappy that member states would be allowed to deviate from the proposed flat rate payment system (which would involve paying farmers on a flat-rate basis rather than giving non-standardised payments).

It was also disappointed that some member states would pay their farmers twice for the same environmental work.

“The NFU will continue to work with the MEPs and representatives of the Council and Commission to continue the fight for a more common policy,” said NFU president, Peter Kendall.

Regional approach

During the negotiations, Defra secured reassurance from the Agriculture Council that the four countries of the UK could continue to implement the CAP regionally. “A one-size-fits-all approach to CAP just doesn’t work. England, Northern Ireland. Scotland and Wales must be allowed the freedom to deliver outcomes tailored to their own circumstances,” said Paterson. 

Simon Coveney, Irish minister for agriculture, food and the marine, said the successful completion of the discussions meant the Irish Presidency’s target of an inter-institutional political agreement by the end of June remained very much on target. “The Council of Agriculture Ministers has taken an enormous step forward in the CAP reform negotiations by agreeing its position on the Commission’s reform proposals.”

The Special Agriculture Committee will meet next week to conclude the Council’s negotiating mandate before the Council starts negotiations with the European Parliament, which adopted its position on the CAP last week.