The Budgets Committee withdrew its reservations about rural development appropriations for 2007 on Wednesday, following the Council's positive response to Parliament's key demands with regard to voluntary modulation of CAP direct aids. For MEPs, this agreement means in particular that the EP will have to be taken seriously in the CAP "health check" negotiations in 2008.
Further to the Council's unanimous agreement on the compromise thrashed out last week by Parliament and the EU's German Presidency, the Budgets Committee, after consulting the Agriculture Committee, released the 20% reserve today. This agreement bears witness to the very close cooperation not only between the two committees but also between the major political groups within the European Parliament.
The agreement between Parliament and the Council, negotiated by EP rapporteur Lutz Goepel (EPP-ED, DE), Jan Mulder (ADLE, NL) and Herbert Bösch (PES, AT), says in essence that voluntary modulation, twice rejected by Parliament, will apply only in the UK and Portugal. Before introducing it, these two Member States must make a study of the likely impact on their farmers, and ensure that they are not treated unfairly by comparison with their counterparts in other Member States. The UK will also have to co-finance funds transferred to rural development.
"This agreement bears the very clear imprint of the EP", said the EP rapporteur, with satisfaction. "This is an extraordinary success for the EP since the Council acknowledged that it could not go against MEPs, stressed Mr Goepel. "In the CAP health check of 2008, we can expect to be treated as full negotiating partners", even though the agricultural treaties do not empower Parliament to co-decide on agricultural questions with the Council.
Mr Bösch, rapporteur for Budgets Committee on this issue, said "It was my aim to protect the budgetary prerogatives of the EP within the negotiations with the Council. The agreement shows that the Council takes the budgetary authority seriously, the Commission however through submitting the proposal did not."
Jan Mulder, Member of the Budget Committee, led the European Parliament in blocking 20% of the entire rural development budget, by amending the report on the Budget for 2007 of the European Union: "It is the first time in history that the European Parliament moves the Council to make this kind of concession in an agriculture dossier. Normally, the European Parliament has only an advisory role to play. I regard this deal as a big victory for democracy in Europe."
As part of the December 2005 agreement on the EU financial perspectives for 2007-2013, the European Council asked that Member States be authorised to transfer to the rural development programmes up to 20% of the CAP aid funding due to them. This was a voluntary modulation, supplementing the current mandatory modulation of 5%, that was designed partly to offset the reduction in rural development appropriations decided by the heads of state or government. The European Commission tabled a draft to this end in May 2005.
Twice, in November 2006 and February 2007, MEPs voted by an overwhelming majority to withdraw the Commission's proposal, on the grounds that voluntary modulation could create discriminations between EU farmers and would open the way to "creeping re-nationalisation" of agricultural policy (consultation procedure, report by Lutz Goepel). To add bite to their refusal, MEPs witheld 20% of the 2007 budget's rural development appropriations.
The Budgets Committee's decision to withdraw this reservation does not need to be confirmed in plenary session in order to take effect.