The treaty on the functioning of the EU promises to “increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress and ensuring the optimum use of the factors of production, in particular labour; ensure a fair standard of living for farmers; stabilise markets; ensure the availability of supplies; ensure reasonable prices for consumers”.
Given these ambitions, it’s clear that Europe, more than ever, needs a strong, common, sustainable, adequately financed and simple common agricultural policy (CAP). This policy is still extremely complex, as the significant effort which went into the so-called Omnibus regulation for a mid-term review of the CAP has shown.
Despite the important simplification exercise that European institutions undertook, the agricultural sector is still calling for the promotion of further simplification and modernisation measures addressed at farmers and administrations.
Farmers are the main actors of the CAP and they need to be supported by a policy with a long-term vision, capable of delivering measures that are simple, effective and easily implementable.
Complex implementation, follow-up, use, controls and audits are unhelpful. What farmers want is an economically viable, market oriented agricultural sector as a pre-condition to produce safe, quality and nutritious food, meeting the requests of all European citizens and consumers who are also concerned with protecting the environment, animal welfare and the mitigation of climate change.
In order to support our agri-food systems, we need to keep in mind the need to guarantee greater investments on research and development.
Promoting innovation would lead to increasingly sustainable production and contribute to finding more efficient solutions to cope with water scarcity and climate change. We are not simply seeking a competitive model, but also one that is focused on environmental performance. As we have seen with precision farming, knowledge and innovation can be a genuine strategic lever for agriculture and rural development.
The Omnibus regulation was an opportunity for Parliament to respond swiftly to the criticalities experienced by all European farmers in the first years of implementation of the new CAP.
Together with co-rapporteurs Albert Dess and Michel Dantin, we wanted to enlarge the limited proposal initially made by the Commission, transforming the file into a real and ambitious mid-term review of the CAP, by focusing on three main issues: simplification, risk management and market measures.
More specifically, it is of paramount importance to defend direct payments. These provide a basic income level that ensures stability, regardless of the size of the farm as well as certainty in face of market volatility, which in turn guarantees food security, employment and sustainability.
In the coming years, the financial resources allocated to the CAP will be under increasing pressure, as a result of Brexit and new policies to address to global challenges such as migration and security. Therefore, it is crucially important to clearly define - in advance - who will benefit from CAP funds.
This is why we wanted to maintain CAP support only for active farmers, namely those farmers that effectively make a vital contribution to the sustainability of the sector, providing public goods and growth.
Parliament has also simplified a raft of administrative commitments that had become particularly difficult to sustain for both beneficiaries and controllers. We intervened to rationalise a complex set of commitments, keeping intact the environmental and collective value of direct payments.
At the same time, the future of the CAP goes hand in hand with a strong focus on generation renewal, which means making the agricultural sector more attractive to new, younger entrants.
To further strengthen the top-up reserved to young farmers - already introduced in 2013 but not yet yielding enough results - Parliament concretely envisaged the opportunity for member states to double this top-up. The same ratio also inspired the legislative provision intended to support initial setting up for young farmers which could help in bringing back youngsters to rural areas.
In recent years, farmers have also faced greater market fluctuations as well as a significant increase in risks derived mostly from greater market volatility; greater exposure to new animal and plant diseases; and an increased frequency of extreme weather events due to climate change. This is why Parliament introduced stronger and more specific risk management tools, enabling farmers to cope better with the increasing instability of their businesses.
At the same time, it is worth highlighting the steps we have taken toward more effective market measures. Our effort focused on giving greater contractual instruments to producers and to their organisations.
Recognising the specificities of the agricultural sector and allowing farmers to work collectively are two fundamental preconditions for strengthening farmers’ position in the food supply chain and consequently improve their bargaining power. This is a crucial solution in encouraging and promoting the competitiveness of farming systems as a whole.
The agreement reached by the institutions represents an important achievement for our farmers. The 2013 CAP reform’s structural problems have finally been solved and new opportunities are now being offered to farmers, in order to help them cope with the turbulences of the market.
In terms of the relationship between agriculture and society, we managed simplification without forgoing the positive effects on the environment that represented the basis of the model approved in 2013.
It is also worth noting that this opportunity was an important testament to the effectiveness of the co-decision procedure, with respect to both the results obtained and the time taken to achieve what is a real mid-term review of the common agricultural policy ready to come into force on 1 January 2018.