For decades it's been a cornerstone policy affecting the livelihood of farmers around the EU...while providing food security to half a billion Europeans.
The Member States which benefit most from the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, are France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the UK. State oversight has helped to ensure good quality, plentiful food but also some of the highest prices in the world through direct payments and price support.
Proponents say reform of CAP is a good deal for farmers because it would help cut red tape and ease subsidy imbalances--imbalances which include 80 percent of aid going to one quarter of EU farms with the largest land holdings.
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Vested interests are naturally in play with CAP, which devours 57 billion Euros, or 43% of the total EU budget. MEPs, now finally given co-decision power along with the Council and Commission, are on the verge of forging a deal to help level the playing field.
The deal is also intended to shift resources towards greater rural development and green sustainability. EU enlargement eastward has added 40% to agricultural land and doubled the number of farmers to 14 million. To ensure balance, no member state farmer should receive less than 65% of the EU average. Additionally important is the capping of direct payments to large land-holding farmers at 150 thousand Euros.
EPP Rapporteur Mairead McGuinness said the reforms will send a message of financial certainty for farmers. And consumers?
Interview: Mairead McGuinness, MEP EPP Group Ireland
The second message is to the wider citizens who actually want to have food produced in Europe, they want a territorial balance to the landscape. They want to make sure that farming isn't concentrated into one region. And we're doing that through this agricultural policy. And we're also saying to citizens we spend a lot of money on agriculture because we value at our very core the European Union what farming and farm production means to our citizens and to our farmers .
The reforms would also see more money given to smaller farms as well as younger farmers just breaking into the business.
Amidst the shifts in recipients will also be an overall reduction in aid, but most farmers should be reassured, said Giovanni La Via, EPP Group rapporteur on Budget and Monitoring of CAP.
Interview: Giovanni La Via, MEP EPP Group Italy
It doesn't mean that we are going to cut strongly the policy…we are going to reduce the level of support to farmers but we are going to have I think enough money to have a strong Common Agricultural policy also until 2020.
EPP Group member Albert Dess, who sits on Parliament's Agriculture committee, said the deal, while chock-full of compromises, is stronger for it.
Interview: Albert Dess, MEP Group Germany
We didn't water down through compromises on greening, we improved them. The suggestions of the commissioner were not appropriate across 28 member states and 14 million farmers. Thus it was good that we in Parliament were able to construct things in a more just fashion. And I am convinced that with these agreements which have now been reached European agricultural can thrive and the interests of sustainability are taken into account.
Wir haben die Greening Kompromisse nicht verwässert sondern verbessert. Die Vorschläge des Kommissars waren meine Ansicht nach nicht geeignet für 28 Mitgliedstaaten für 14 Millionen Bauern. Und deshalb war es gut daß wir die Praxis gerechter gestaltet haben. Und ich bin überzeugt dass mit den Beschlüßen die jetzt gefasst worden sind sowohl die europaische Landwirtschaft leben kann wie auch die Interessen der Nachhaltigkeit berücksichtigt wurde.
Agriculture accounts for less than 2% of EU GDP and 5% of total employment. Some critics say more needs to be spent on agricultural research and technology to remain competitive or shift EU budget resources where they can be more efficiently used. McGuinness insisted the numb
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