The last round of CAP reform was so complex, the stress of steering its passage through parliament left a plenary chairman in a coma. This time, it’s set to be even worse, says UKIP MEP Stuart Agnew.
During my first term as a Member of the European Parliament, we spent the latter two years producing a major Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Reform Report.
This was supposed to set agriculture’s course for a significant period ahead and was taken very seriously.
Over 8,000 amendments were tabled, and more than 10 hours of committee time was allocated to do the actual voting on these amendments.
To cut a long story short, several hundred more votes than expected ended up being called.
And most MEPs, myself excepted, had not been properly advised by their assistants, so were left glowering at their staff instead of voting.
Immediately after voting on these amendments, we were asked to vote on the package as a whole.
A mere ten-minute consultation was allowed to consider the impact of the particular combination of outcomes that these thousands of amendments had on the overall report. Ten hours would have been more appropriate!
Nevertheless, and clearly without really knowing what they were voting for, the great majority voted for it.
The main Parliament (Plenary) subsequently voted on a reduced version – about 2,000 amendments.
Even this number was an enormous task for a plenary voting session and the stress of conducting the event caused the chairman to collapse into a coma. An ambulance was required.
Given the blood, sweat and tears that went into this long-term CAP reform, it seems astonishing that another one is now underway, which has attracted 7,000 amendments.
It raises important, interesting questions.
Why is it even necessary? This is a de facto admission that the previous reform got it wrong in important respects.
As we complained at the time, the previous reform was long and complicated, involving detailed, rigid rules micro-managing farmers’ choices.
It was also disproportionately ‘green’. The micro-management arose because many MEPs were concerned that, left to themselves, many farmers would not make what the EU considered the ‘right’ choices, so the choices had to be taken for them.
This new reform is, in many respects, an attempt to ‘unpick’ much of what we did last time.
For these reasons, it is all being done as quietly as possible. No-one wants to admit they got it wrong.
In line with this ‘backdoor’ approach, initially it was certainly hoped, and perhaps expected, that this ‘reformed reform’ would complete both Committee and Plenary stages by the end of this term.
However, there are interesting dynamics at play. As those 7,000 amendments show, European parliamentary opinion is divided.
Some MEPs wish to push on quickly, wrapping it all up as soon as they can. Others are concerned about the impact of the changes. And ‘green’ MEPs fear the choices many farmers will make if given new freedoms.
At this stage, we can be pretty sure the Parliament and the Commission will push it on, but, we do not know how far they will get.
Of course, unlike at Westminster, legislation here is not lost if it remains incomplete at the end of term. It merely stops where it is.
However, a new Parliament, if given the chance, may have different ideas from the current one.
In short then, we do not know exactly how it will play out – though we do know sometime later this year, the CAP will be subject to significant change which may, to a greater or lesser degree, extend the freedom of choice the CAP allows both member states and even individual farmers.