At their meeting on 26 April, agriculture ministers discussed the reform of payments for farmers, which make up a considerable part of the EU's expenditure. The debate is part of the broader discussion on the reform of the EU's common agricultural policy.
"It has been a very constructive day. We’ve had fruitful meetings and very open discussions. I am sure that today we have moved the CAP (common agricultural policy) forward," says Danish Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Mette Gjerskov, who chaired the meeting.
Ministers agree that one of the key tasks in the reform is to make sure that payments are well targeted and spent efficiently. Minister Gjerskov said it was equally important that the reform measures are "simple and do not imply any additional administrative burdens for farmers or administrations".
Better targeting of support to farmers
Ministers broadly recognised the need for better targeting of payments to certain groups of farmers:
"Young farmers" and "small farmers": Ministers agreed that these two groups need to be better targeted. The young need the possibility of increased support, as only 6 % of all farmers across the EU are today under the age of 35 years, and this raises concerns about the future of farming. Small farmers need help to cut red tape.
"Farmers in areas with natural constraints" (i.e. in areas where farming is difficult due to natural conditions): Member states could support the possibility of increased support, but wanted to see how it would fit in with a similar programme under the Rural Development Fund.
On increased support for farmers working in specific sectors or regions in difficulty ("voluntary coupled support"), who are particularly important for economic, social and environmental reasons, ministers took different views, which led the Presidency to conclude that the Commission proposal struck a balance.
Following concerns that farm payments were being paid to companies whose main activity was not farming, ministers examined the Commission’s proposals to restrict payments to "active farmers" taking the view that a simpler approach, easier to implement in practice, was needed.
Many countries also preferred the introduction of these schemes for specific groups to be non-compulsory and left to their discretion.
"Capping" of payments for large farms
Setting a ceiling on the amount paid to the largest farms in the EU ("capping") is one of the issues in the current negotiations on the Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014-2020.
Agriculture ministers therefore limited their discussions to the method proposed by the Commission and how it could be simpler to operate in practice.
Uniform level of payment by 2019
The Commission proposes that member states reorganise agricultural payments so that by 2019 farmers in the same country or region will each receive the same level of payment per hectare.
A considerable number of ministers had concerns about the impact of this proposal and underlined the need to proceed carefully. Many highlighted the need for greater flexibility and appropriate transitional periods.
Further steps in the discussion of the CAP reform
May 2012: Debate on the greening of the CAP
June 2012: Debate on the rural development policy
Press release (pdf)
Press conference (video)