By MICHAEL POLLITT
, Agricultural editor
Saturday, January 12, 2013
A grudging acceptance of Europe’s reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy may be emerging, said Euro MP and Norfolk farmer Stuart Agnew.
He detected signs that two key groups dominating the European parliament’s agriculture and rural development committee have been reached compromises.
A crunch meeting of the agriculture committee on Tuesday, January 22 could lead the way to the next phase of the reform process, he added.
West Norfolk poultry and arable farmer Mr Agnew, who was elected in 2009, said 7,500 amendments had been made to the CAP reform proposals.
In a 70-minute briefing to members of Holt & District Farmers’ Club, he said that there was increasing recognition by leaders of this influential committee that they must make a formal response. As a member of the 44-strong committee, Ukip’s Mr Agnew was one of just eight regular attenders with detailed agricultural knowledge.
There were seven political groups and one or two independents on the committee, which made the decision-making even more challenging.
And faced with so many amendments, it had rather blown the system. “Never before in the history of the EU have they had 7,500 amendments. They can’t cope with that – they all have to be voted on and agreed. So what normally happens is that they seek compromises.
Mr Agnew, who is a former chairman of Norfolk National Farmers’ Union, said that the two biggest groups - the left of centre EPP (European People’s Party) had the most members, then the socialists. “If these two agree on a compromise amendment, they will outvote everyone else on the committee.”
“This reform process has been stuttering and lumbering along. There have been serious objections to the ‘greening’ measures as completely impractical,” he said.
Part of the problem was simply the sheer size of the EU, which stretched from 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle to the bottom corner of Cyprus and from 500hp tractors to draught oxen – all of these have to have an a common agricultural policy. It is getting more and more difficult to find one that will fit the bill.”
“They’ve had problems in getting compromises. Until the turn of the year, it looked as if there would not be a compromise. There had been an internal split in both groups, on a geographical basis - north and west and south and east on the other.
The ‘north” contributes more while the south and east are net recipients. For us, for every £1 we pay, we get 50p back, he said.
However, a leading member of the EPP, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness, seemed to indicate at the recent Oxford Farming Conference that a compromise agreement could be reached. “She would know because she is the second most senior member of the EPP on the committee.”
“If the parliament fails, then what’s the point in having it,” said Mr Agnew. And if the committee failed to respond, it would bypass the parliament. It would revert to the old system and the EU Commission and Farm Council would seal a deal.
“There’s a consensus that it must be settled to maintain the parliament’s credibility,” he added.
Mr Agnew said Ukip’s approach, as a member of the minority opposition, was to look at the proposed amendments with one test in mind - Will it benefit the British farmer? And will it benefit the UK taxpayer?