Thank goodness we left! Brussels policy reform shatters EU unity in bitter row

Greenpeace protesters cover European Parliament in paint

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EU negotiators failed in May to agree reforms to the bloc’s huge farming subsidy programme, with talks due to resume this on rules to protect small farms and curb agriculture’s environmental impact.

The EU is nearing the end of a three-year struggle to reform its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP will account for roughly one-third of the EU’s 2021-2027 budget – 387 billion euros – on payments to farmers and support for rural development, with the new rules kicking in from 2023.

The revamp aims to curb the environmental impact of agriculture, which is the most frequently reported source of pressure on Europe’s habitats and species and is responsible for 10 percent of EU greenhouse gas emissions.

EU member states failed to find a compromise to put forward in negotiations with the European Parliament and the European Commission.

Now Greek Agricultural Minister Spilios Livanos has claimed MEPs “blackmailed” EU chiefs and acted in a “totally disrespectful” way.

Mr Livanos told Euractiv that after two days of non-stop negotiations the EU Council of Ministers was given a counter-proposal by the Parliament containing a wide range of undiscussed provisions.

The Greek politician claimed the “unacceptable” move “lacked democracy”.

He said: “Despite the positive approach of the Council of Ministers and our honest intention to find common ground with the European Parliament, we were confronted with a totally unacceptable method of negotiations, which we felt lacked democracy.”

He accused MEPs of being “totally disrespectful”.

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EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was hopeful a deal would be reached in June. But he said member states had “exaggerated fears” that money set aside for environmental programmes would go unspent because farmers would not apply for it.

Portuguese agriculture minister Maria do Ceu Antunes said member states had made “numerous concessions” in the talks.

MEPs also said member states had added small print at the last minute to weaken the rules.

One unresolved dispute is how much to spend on “eco-schemes” to protect the environment, such as organic farming or re-wetting peatlands to absorb CO2.

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EU member states proposed a requirement for countries to spend an annual average of 18 percent of payments for farmers on such schemes, or lose the money. Parliament had sought a binding 30 percent share.

Other outstanding issues include how to divert cash from big landowners and businesses to smaller farms. Parliament said countries should redistribute a share of payments to smaller farms. Member states said countries could opt out if they use other methods to distribute the funds fairly.

To make things worse, criticism was also reserved for EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who ministers accused of being too close to Parliament and not fulfilling his role as an honest broker.

Mr Livanos confirmed that several ministers had “expressed their concerns on the role of the European Commission” during the negotiations and said the Commission could be more “constructive and neutral”.

Hopeful an agreement could be reached this month despite the embarrassing row between the two institutions, Mr Livanos said: “I believe everybody has now understood the crucial necessity of reaching an agreement as soon as possible.

“I am confident that the three institutions will manage to settle the remaining differences and, in fact, formulate a good deal, especially for the European farmers,” he said, adding that Greece was committed to working constructively towards this goal.

“All of us, in serving our farmers and our citizens, regardless of our institutional role, political or ideological beliefs, have to rise to the occasion and fulfil our duty.”

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