Chris Burns off Making Europe's farming more sustainable, equitable, environmentally-friendly and competitive while ensuring quality and fair prices for consumers. The goals of the new Common Agricultural Policy. But is the reform enough to achieve those objectives and will it really be money well-spent?
CB on Hello and welcome to People First, the EPP Group's monthly program on issues with impact on people like you. Joining us to answer some of your questions is Mairead McGuinness. She's a member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee. You're also a member of the EPP Group. And this must have been, as a chief architect of the reform here in the parliament, it must have been a real balancing act of interests, between farmers, consumers and environmentalists.
Mairead McGuinness, Irish MEP, on Well it was a balance, and a battle and a compromise, because at the end of the day what we have to do was to try and get value for money, we had to ensure the bud we had to listen to the interests of farmers and consumers and the environmental lobby.
CB It isn't easy, is it?
MM It isn't easy, but the only way you make effective policy is if you listen to all the stakeholders. Now there's a bit of history here, to the Common Agricultural Policy. It's been Europe's longest, most established policy. You and I, when we go shopping, take for granted that somebody somewhere in rain or snow will milk cows, will harvest corn, so that you and I eat. We rarely think about how food is produced. What we had to do in the parliament was say to the public, we need taxpayer support to produce food. Because farming comes way below the average of other sectors. And you and I do not pay the full price for food. These public goods, the environment that you mentioned, water quality, all of these issued are factored into food, but we don't pay the full price for food. So come in, the Common Agricultural Policy.
CB on Exactly, and let's get a little more detail on this with our report before we go to the viewer questions.
CB off The reform reduces the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy, though it remains the largest part of the European Union's 2014 to 2020 spending plan, taking up just under 40% of the funding, or about 50 billion euros a year. Now more than a half-century old, the CAP was established to ensure food security for Europe, stable markets for farmers and fair prices for consumers.
CB off Among the key reforms effective January 2015, farmers in new member states are to rise toward convergence with those in older member states. There's also a so-called "Greening Payment" – where 30% of the spending is earmarked for sustainable farming.
CB off The reform favours smaller farmers and cuts payments for large farms. Individual payments above 150,000 euros will be subject to a mandatory 5% cut, and member states have the option to impose an even larger cut.
CB off Younger farmers – those no more than 40 years of age – would receive additional payments. A small farmers scheme gives member states the option to pay them up to 1,250 euros.
CB off Along with food security, the CAP is aimed at ensuring competitive prices. Milk quotas are to expire in 2015, and sugar quotas in 2017, giving additional time for that sector to adjust.
CB on So Mairead, let's go to our first question, a person from one of the new member states, asking about convergence, that we had in the report.
Vox pop Hello my name is Toreth Busig and I'm from the Czech Republic, and I'd like to know how the European Parliament can support Czech agriculture and Czech farmers.
CB on What he did mean, when I talked to him a little bit more, was that idea of convergence.
MM on OK let's explain that, but take the word convergence, what does that mean. Look, at the moment we have based payments to farmers on historic production levels, but we have new member states who've come in and we have commitments to them. But they're not getting as much support as farmers in the older member states. So real pressure to try and balance the money between member states, but also within member states. But I'll come to that in a moment. So what I would say to friends and colleagues in new member states, there will be more support going from the central budget to those countries below the average payments.
CB Will they come up exactly by par now? …Not yet?
MM No they don't come up exactly by par. Big problem. You alluded to it in your report. The first time in the history of the European Union that the budget is cut, generally, for the next seven years. And agriculture is taking a hit as well. So there's a cut in the budget. We're asking farmers, you've reported it, to do more in terms of delivery of those public goods I've talked about. And there's more farmers. So huge challenges, less money, but I can say to your question, yes the new member states will see some increase in their payments. Will they be happy? I don't think so, I think they'll still be battling with us and saying this is not entirely equitable, or fair, and these are challenges we'll have to deal with in the future.
CB on OK and here's another key issue: how does this CAP make farming more environmentally friendly. We have a question from somebody from a country that made "slow food" famous.
Vox pop Hi I'm Francesco, I come from Italy, and I want to know how this reform will make farming greener.
CB on Well, we saw, 30% of the CAP, right is supposed to go for the greening of farming.
MM on Before you even say what, lots of European policy demands that farmers deliver move for the environment. So we've got environmental legislation on water, all sorts of things. But in the Common Agricultural Policy, in particular, big change this time around For the first time we are saying that direct supports to farmers are directly linked to the environment. And 30 percent of payments are linked. It's a big proportion of the money that a farmer will get. So what does it mean? For tillage farmers, the ones that grow crops, they have to leave part of their farm, 5% initially, rising possibly to 7%, in what we call ecological focus areas.
CB Wait a minute. Isn't that just set-aside?
MM No, you could call it that. I wouldn't be a fan of set-aside. But I understand the need for bio-diversity, space for nature. I'm a little bit concerned about this proposal, because we're not sure it will work. So we're starting at 5%, it's quite a significant part of the land. And you as a consumer could say this could push up the price of food. So we're trying to balance all the interests here, but to answer your question, and your question very clearly, yes, and the Common Agricultural Policy in first-pillar payments is now re-oriented toward the environment, towards greening.
CB on OK, let's move to our next question on youth, and young farmers.
Vox pop Hello, my name is Andrea, I come from Spain. How will this reform help young farmers?
CB on OK, plain and simple, how does that work?
MM on Very easy answer. Look, the parliament was with the Commission on this one. We know there's an aging population in farming. We know there's a lot of youth unemployment.
CB So you want to get youth to come to the farms.
MM We know that there's a need to grow more food globally. We want young people to look to agriculture as a career opportunity. In the past there was no respect for farming. Let's be very clear.
CB A lot of youth would leave for the city, they'd just leave the farm.
MM We're now understanding that food is fundamental to society, and that young people have a hug amount to deliver, with new ideas. So we're saying young farmers up to 40 years of age will receive a top-up payment of 25% on the supports they get, if they were just above 40 years ago. So what we're saying is there's a direct incentive to young people to get active in farming.
CB on OK, and then a bit related to that is the question of small farming. Let's listen to this one.
Vox pop Hello my name is Marc Palöm from Germany, and I would like to know whether this new regulation really is helpful for small farmers and for the quality of food.
CB on So how to you make sure that small farmers get the help they need?
MM on There's two questions there actually. Let's talk about the small farmers first. Small farmers can be intensive farmers and sometimes they don't need help. So let's be very careful not try to pigeonhole size. There are many small farmers, and especially in new member states, but in my own member state of Ireland, who need support. They will get some from direct payments that we talked about from the greening, but they will also get support, and much-needed support in rural development measures, so we can have targeted rural agri-development schemes.
CB on OK and then final question from an outsider looking in, an American who came here who came here to find out more about small farming because she lives near a lot of small farms.
Vox pop Hello my name is Madeleine Waltman, I'm from Snyder County, Pennsylvania. I live in a small town called Selinsgrove, there's a lot of farming around there. So my question is, what is the definition of a small farmer? What is your cut-off point of how much agriculture they're doing, they're dealing with?
CB on Well that's a pretty fair question, but a related question: how do we get the results form the CAP that we want?
MM on Well look, sometimes we ask what is a small farmer, is it one meter or two meters high? So let's not go into definitions. The key question here for me is we want to target support to active farmers. Whether they are small, medium or large. We wanted to target those who are managing the countryside, producing food, who are staying in their communities.
CB Who are really farming, and we're not talking about golf courses.
MM Who are really farming. Exactly. This is a big part of the shift in our reforms. There are cases where money in the past was going to people who were not farming.
CB Airports, golf courses. … that's out now.
MM We cannot have that, and we've said it very clearly in the reforms. In terms of support for small farmers, as I said, will come from both parts of the policy, and that's how it should be. And those small farmers can develop niche products which pillar to rural development can support. But absolutely fundamental is that we ensure that we make sure by checking that the money goes to where we politically intended to go. To active farmers, the farmers who are out there. The people we talked about, who we do not see when we collected the milk, or who not even consider when we buy bread, but without them we would be in a particularly hungry place today. So that's a fundamental message.
CB on OK, last question, and this is my question. And I hear this from a lot of people, here in this parliament and outside, is why spend about 50 billion euros a year on a sector that is not a future-leaning sector? Why not spend more money on R&D?
MM on You are so wrong. I'm sorry, you are so, so wrong.
CB OK, tell me, tell me.
MM You're telling me that the future is not food, that food is not the future? You haven't seen the statistics. Food, and food delivered sustainably, is the biggest challenge mankind faces. So maybe the people in this parliament don't get out often enough, and aren't connecting with the people in the grassroots. And they don't understand that the budget for agriculture delivers for them. It delivers for villages, for towns, for cities. It delivers for jobs, it delivers green growth, it delivers food, it stops hunger. Is this not the future? My God, they need to get out more often.
CB on Mairead McGuinness, thanks so much for joining us. You've been in the center of this hurricane, trying to decide this CAP reform.
MM Maybe I need to get out.
CB Well maybe now you have a chance, now that we're done.
CB on That's all the time we've got for now. Thanks for joining us on People First. Find out more about the activities of the largest political force in parliament by checking eppgroup.eu.
Until next time, thanks for watching!
EU farm reform will make farms greener, more equitable between old and new member states
The EU's reform of the Common Agricultural Policy or CAP will target support for greener farms, active farmers and young farmers, and seek more equitable payments between old and new member states.
Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, farms, farmers, European Union, European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, EPP, Brussels