Crunch EU talks hold key to CAP progress, farmers told

CRUNCH talks over the European Union’s budget will also shape the future direction of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Suffolk farmers heard this week.

Maeve Whyte, who heads the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) office in Brussels, told the NFU’s annual county meeting that final decisions would not be taken on CAP reform until the budget for 2014 to 2020 was agreed.

With the exception of the euro, this was the ‘single most political issue in Brussels’ and there were big differences between the 27 member states, she said.

“Everything that comes from the EU is funded from the EU budget, including the CAP, and it’s now coming to crunch time,” she said.

“About 40% of the EU budget goes on the CAP, that’s why the discussions are so vital. No one can decide how the CAP will look until they decide what the budget will be.”

More than 60 members attended the county meeting, at the Cedars Hotel, Stowmarket, on Monday, which was chaired by NFU county chairman Richard Scott.

Delegates heard that the European Commission wanted the EU’s total budget to increase by 5%, with the CAP budget frozen for seven years. But some member states, including the UK and Germany, wanted the budget reduced by €100 billion, while others wanted the CAP budget to be protected.

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David Cameron and the other heads of government will attend an extraordinary meeting of the European Council at the end of November to try to hammer out a deal, which requires unanimity among all 27 member states.

It is a year since the European Commission published its proposals to reform the CAP and Ms Whyte said progress had been slow so far. She said that the proposals were with the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, which was working its way through the 7,500 amendments that were tabled over the summer with a view to finding compromises.

She said that a vote was possible in January, but MEPs’ decisions would be shaped by the budget discussions.

“The process is, and will remain, massively complicated and no one knows what’s going to happen,” she said.

The Irish Government was due to take over the rotating Presidency of the EU Council from Cyprus in January and might have a crucial role to play in brokering an agreement, she added.

Delegates got to question the county’s four Police and Crime Commissioner candidates Tim Passmore (Conservative), David Cocks (Independent), Bill Mountford (UKIP) and Jane Basham (Labour).

Rachel Carrington was welcomed in her new role as NFU county adviser for Suffolk.