In its opinion adopted at last Friday's plenary session, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) stressed the strategic importance of the future common agricultural policy (CAP). The mayors and presidents who make up the CoR's membership call for a fairer CAP, leaving room for more regulation. They also stressed the need for sustainable European agriculture and for the policy's implementation to be tailored as closely as possible to realities on the ground.
"European agriculture will have to overcome major challenges in the years and decades to come, including food security, environmental protection, climate change, preservation of the rural environment and farmers' standard of living. It is therefore a fundamental issue for Europe, especially as agricultural land covers 47% of European territory and Europe has almost 12 million farms, of which 70% are small farms of less than five hectares," declared René Souchon (PES, France), president of the Auvergne region and CoR rapporteur for the opinion on the future of the CAP, which was adopted by a large majority.
The opinion deals with all of the European Commission's proposals, presented in October 2011, for the reform of the CAP after 2013.
In order to overcome the numerous challenges facing European agriculture, the CoR sets forth its views on several key aspects of the future CAP:
- The need to maintain an ambitious budget capable of dealing with issues such as food security, sustainability, the competitiveness of all forms of farming and balanced development of rural areas;
- The need for public regulation of agricultural markets. The CoR calls for previous decisions on the removal of milk and sugar quotas to be reassessed, as well as planting rights in the wine sector;
- The gradual convergence of direct support at European level, in order to ensure greater fairness in the way in which support is distributed, taking account of the economic situation of farms;
- Reduction of the degressivity threshold to EUR 100 000, with a cap of EUR 200 000;
- A greater effort to promote areas with a permanent natural handicap, by setting aside up to 10% of funds under the CAP's first pillar;
- More flexible greening measures;
- Maintaining coupled support, especially in fragile areas;
- Introducing thematic rural development sub-programmes to promote products with official labels indicating quality and agricultural produce from peri-urban areas;
- Support for agricultural research and innovation, setting aside 10% of funds under the CAP's second pillar for this priority.
CoR members also call for the CAP to be rolled out as closely as possible to the regional level:
- A bigger role for local and regional authorities in implementing the CAP within the framework of multilevel governance – European, national, regional – in order to take account of the diversity of European regions;
- Involving local and regional authorities in establishing partnership contracts between the EU and Member States;
- The possibility of introducing greening at the regional level so that it can be tailored to local agricultural, environmental and socio-economic realities on the ground, within the framework of territorial contracts drawn up in consultation with farmers;
- Implementation of a European rural development strategy, taking account of the diversity of all rural areas.
The adopted opinion must now be sent to the European Commission, the Council and the European Parliament which will continue to study the legislative proposals.
Furthermore, the European Parliament's Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, which had heard Mr Souchon's views on 29 February, stated that it was very interested in the strategies proposed in his working document and invited him to come back to present the finalised opinion. The rapporteur should therefore present the CoR opinion at a forthcoming meeting of the Parliamentary committee. The Committee would probably not adopt the reports before the autumn, and by January at the earliest, at the first reading of the European Parliament's plenary session, following the agreement on the multiannual financial framework expected in December.