Council Press Release of the 3225th Council meeting (Agriculture and Fisheries) Brussels
Between 25-26 February, EU Agriculture Ministers held a public debate in Brussels over the direct payments regulation and the horizontal regulation, within the framework of the common agricultural policy (CAP) reform. The debate included discussion on the basic payment scheme and whether it was transparent who the beneficiaries of CAP payments are. Ministers were also briefed on the mislabelling of beef products.
Reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP)
Ministers held two policy debates within the framework of the common agricultural policy (CAP) reform. The discussions focused on:
– the proposal for a regulation establishing rules for direct payments to farmers (direct payments regulation) (15396/3/11);
– the proposal for a regulation on the financing, management and monitoring of the CAP (horizontal regulation) (15426/1/11).
The Council was generally comfortable with the Presidency proposal on the basic payment scheme (6638/13) as a step towards a Council position on a final package.
Several delegations noted in this regard that the principle "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed" should apply to the elements presented. The Presidency will reflect on the issues identified by delegations with a view to finalising a Council position at the next Council meeting in March.
As regards internal convergence, most delegations welcomed the greater flexibility offered to member states applying the Single payment scheme (SPS) or the Single area payment scheme (SAPS). Member states would have the option to reach partial rather than full convergence. However, some member states applying the SAPS linked their support for the Presidency compromise to the possibility of phasing out this transitional system over a longer period.
There were diverging views on coupled aid among delegations, some considering that any flexibility on internal convergence should imply less generous possibilities for coupled aid, while others considered that coupled aid could facilitate internal convergence.
As regards the voluntary redistributive payment many member states supported the suggested Presidency amendments. This would allow them to grant a top-up on the basic payment for the first hectares of each farm and in so doing to take account of the greater labour intensity on smaller farms and the economies of scale of larger farms.
In its proposal, the Commission suggests that in order to reach internal convergence, which is a key issue for the basic payment scheme, member states should achieve a uniform level of direct payments at regional or national level by 2019.
Transparency on CAP beneficiaries
With regard to the amendments on the publication of beneficiaries’ names , proposed by the Commission (14314/12), the President concluded that the Council accepted the objectives and considered that the means proposed by the Commission to achieve that objective are appropriate and proportionate.
However some member states still argued that the minimised threshold was not necessary and should be abandoned for the sake of transparency: in their view, all beneficiaries of CAP payments should be listed. Some others expressed concerns about the details given on the beneficiaries, fearing that the process might interfere with data on their private lives. They questioned whether the proposal complied with the Court of Justice ruling. Some delegations believed that further consideration of this issue was needed in order to assess whether the same objective could not be attained in a less intrusive way.
Amendments to the proposal for a horizontal regulation include new rules on the publication of information on all beneficiaries of the EU agricultural funds. This takes account of the objections raised by the Court of Justice to the former rules, to the extent that they were applicable to natural persons. The proposed new rules differ from those declared invalid by the Court in so far as they:
At the request of some delegations, a legal opinion was presented to the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) on 11 February and was discussed by the SCA on 18 February, on the basis of a Presidency questionnaire. On this basis, the Presidency had prepared a further paper to clarify the position of the Council on this issue (6640/13).
Mislabelling of processed beef products
At the request of the Presidency, the Commission gave an overview of the current situation regarding food products containing horsemeat mislabelled as beef (6644/13).
Many member states welcomed the testing programme proposed by the Commission which had been subsequently endorsed by all member states and adopted as a Commission recommendation.
The tests, which have already been started in many member states, give an idea of the extent of the problem. On this basis, several delegations called for the Commission to anticipate a report on processed meat product labelling, scheduled for publication this December. They also stressed that the mandatory labelling of origin could contribute positively to the re-establishment of consumer confidence. Others, however were sceptical and pointed out that the current cases of fraud would not have been prevented by more legislation. Following the discovery in January of the presence of horse DNA in beef burgers in Ireland, several other member states subsequently found horse meat in a range of processed beef products.
Very specific tests had uncovered what appears to be a widespread fraud and mislabelling of certain processed products resulting in consumers being misled.
European Parliament Press Release - 3225th Council meeting Agriculture and Fisheries
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