The Agriculture and Rural Development Directorate of the European Commission has been congratulating itself on the ‘completion’ of the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy with the publication of the four basic regulations to give legislative effect to the political agreement reached last July between the Commission, the agriculture ministers of the 28 member states and the parliament.
It has taken three years to get to this point, with the parliament participating for the first time, but making little difference to the outcome and adding significantly to the expense – at one stage it had to deal with 9,000 objections from Euro-MPs to the Commissioner’s draft proposals, all of which had to be translated into English, French and German, the three working EU languages.
The reforms were to have come into force at the beginning of this month but the Commissioner had to postpone introduction until January 2015. In truth the process is still not complete. Though the basic regulations have been published, the implementing regulations have not and will not be for months. As a result of the postponement, transitional arrangements have had to be made for 2014, which required a fifth regulation.
The reformed policy is to apply until December 2020. If it will take the best part of three and a half years to complete the whole reform process this time, the Commissioner had better start again in 2016 if the next lot of reforms is to be introduced on time. If that process also overruns, discussion of reform in one EU institution or another may become a permanent feature of EU business – perhaps that is the intention?
All of this illustrates the secondary part that the national governments play in the reform process. The EU regulations are law directly applicable in the member states. It is only in the last few months that the member states have been able to get to grips with the discretions left to them to exercise, and because the regulations provide that discretions may be exercised at regional level, this has meant that, in the UK, Defra made the discretionary decisions for English farmers and the devolved governments made them for Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish farmers.
There was only one decision for the UK Government to take, how to divide the UK allocation of funds between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This was made by Defra after consulting the devolved governments.
It led to complaints in Edinburgh that Scotland had been shortchanged and to the Scottish National Party suggesting it as another reason for the Scots to opt for independence, which begged the question of whether an independent Scotland would automatically be a member of the EU and receive its own allocation (as the SNP claims) or have to apply to become a new member with all that that implies in terms of time to go through the process (several years) and compulsory adoption of the euro.