A crucial vote by MEPs on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform package took place in Strasbourg, France today (13 March), the first EU farm policy reform shaped by the European Parliament (EP) as a full co-legislator with EU member states.

Voting results showed that draft mandates for negotiations with member states on future direct payments, rural payments, common market organisation and financing, management and monitoring were all approved.

The EP said that the new policy needs to make 'greening' measures mandatory but flexible, and help farmers cope with market challenges, in order to deliver 'secure supplies of high-quality food while protecting the environment better'.

'Today, we have struck a proper balance between food security and improved environmental protection, so that the new EU farm policy can deliver even more public goods to EU citizens,' said agriculture committee chairman Paolo De Castro. 'But it must also be made less bureaucratic and fairer to farmers, not least to empower them to cope with crisis. This will be our position when negotiating its final shape with member states.'

Differences among EU member states in the levels of EU funding for farmers should be reduced slightly faster than the European Commission proposed, EP said, with no member state's farmers receiving less than 65 per cent of the EU average.

Parliament also voted in favour of the publication of beneficiaries of EU agricultural funding and inserted a list of land-owners, such as airports and sports clubs, which should automatically be excluded from this funding unless they prove that farming contributes a substantial share of their income.

Young farmers should get a 25 per cent top-up payments for a maximum of 100ha and member states could also use more money to support small farmers, although there will be a cap on direct payments to any one farm of €300,000, and substantially reduced payments to those receiving more than €150,000.

MEPs agreed that 30 per cent of national budgets for direct payments should be made conditional upon compliance with mandatory greening measures, but stressed that these measures should be made 'more flexible and gradua'l. Three key measures – crop diversification, maintaining permanent pasture and grassland and creating 'ecologically-focused areas' – would remain but with certain exceptions, e.g. to reflect the size of the farm.

'This decision reflects the voice of European citizens on how the future EU farm policy should look,' said rapporteur for the Direct payments and Rural development regulations Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos. 'We need to ensure that we keep and promote rural economies and that competitiveness and protection of environment are compatible. This is how we can best use public money to deliver public goods for everyone.'

Reacting to the CAP decision, European agri-cooperative group Copa-Cogeca welcomed what it described as more practical measures for farmers to apply, calling it the vote a 'step forward'.

The organisation welcomed what it called a 'speedy decision' on Eiropean Parliaments' negotiating mandate and urged MEPs, EU farm ministers and the EU Commission to come to a final decision by June – a move it described as 'crucial' to ending the uncertainty facing farmers and cooperatives andenabling them to get on with production and investment plans.

'The decision today, which includes measures which are more practical for farmers to apply, is a good basis to work on and marks a key step forward in the EU decision process,' noted Copa President Gerd Sonnleitner after the vote in Strasbourg. ' The EU agriculture sector makes a significant contribution to growth and employment in the EU, employing nearly 40m people mostly in the EU rural areas, and this decision should help to maintain this. I urge EU Farm Ministers next week to agree their position on the new CAP so that negotiations can commence between MEPs, EU Farm Ministers, the EU Commission to reach a final agreement by June'.

This was echoed by Cogeca President Christian Pees, who underlined the increasing challenges facing farmers and agri-cooperatives like the extreme volatility on agricultural markets.

'A strong CAP, with a good budget behind it, is vital to help stabilise markets and ensure that we have a competitive agri-food sector in the future to meet growing food demand,' he explained.