We’ve had the draft agenda for the EU Council of Ministers meeting on 26/27 April. The agriculture items will be taken on the first day, fisheries on the second, and the CAP item will be on selected aspects of the Direct Payments proposal. The Presidency has grouped them into two sets of issues:
(a) Young farmers, small farmers, coupled support, and the optional top-up in Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC, the proposed new name for the LFA), and;
(b) Redistribution issues within Member States, the “active farmer” rule, and capping.
Although the Council won’t take formal decisions, it will give an important steer to the detailed negotiations that are now going on in earnest at working level. It’s a sign that the talks have stepped up a gear – after a protracted period of simply going through the proposals to clarify Member States’ understanding of them, the negotiations proper have now begun.
This Council meeting will take place in Luxembourg instead of Brussels, as is always the case every April, June and October. It will be Agriculture Ministers’ first time in the newly refurbished Council building, after several years of meeting in a temporary conference centre. One of the last times I was in that building before it was closed for refurbishment was, in a previous job, for the 2003 CAP reform discussions. On that occasion the whole process only took about 6 months from the tabling of the proposals to the political agreement on the final deal. Of course there’s no way we could move as fast as that now – we have nearly twice as many Member States, and the codecision procedure with the European Parliament. But let’s hope we’re able to make progress as fast as we can in the circumstances.