Simplifying the CAP is essential to making our agricultural economy more competitive, preserving and creating jobs and contributing to a sound development of rural areas.
Commissioner Hogan's Mission Letter (which he received from President Jean-Claude Juncker, on the first of November 2014.) focused on simplification during his mandate.
Simplification must be compatible with broad policy objectives:
- the environment,
- food safety,
- cohesion and
- protection of the Union’s financial interests.
The purpose of simplification is to ensure that policies, the mechanisms chosen to implement them and the necessary legal framework are never more complex than is necessary to achieve the intended objectives effectively.
Farmers and other economic operators in the agricultural sector should be relieved from red-tape and requirements that are not necessary to reach political objectives and ensure proper management of taxpayers' money. Simplifying the CAP is essential to making our agricultural economy more competitive, preserving and creating jobs and contributing to a sound development of our rural areas.
Commissioner Hogan's simplification Agenda
Screening of of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
From the beginning of his mandate, simplification of the CAP has been one of Commissioner Hogan's top priorities.
In early 2015 Commissioner Hogan initiated a thorough screening of the entire agricultural acquis in order to identify the potential for simplification in that policy. At the same time, by letter dated 14/01/2015, he invited Member States, stakeholders, the EP, the Council, the Committee of the Regions (CoR) and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) to come forward with simplification proposals. On 11 May 2015 the Council adopted conclusions on CAP Simplification.
More than 1500 simplification proposals have come out of this process. The examination of all resulting proposals was based on the following three principles:
- Simplification should be predominantly for the benefit of around 8 million beneficiaries of the CAP;
- The political decisions of the 2013 reform should not be put into question;
- Simplification should not jeopardise the sound financial management of the CAP.
The Commission followed up this exercise by launching four waves of simplification actions covering the full spectrum of the CAP - both Commission level Regulations and related guidance documents. For details, see the box below.
The Commission therefore has now come forward with a further series of measures to change the four Basic Acts in the framework of the 'Omnibus Regulation', published on September 13th. The measures aim at easing the burden on and making life easier for both farmers and managing authorities.
Actions so far
First wave (March 2015)
For the first year of application of the CAP reform, the focus was on injecting additional flexibility to facilitate the implementation of the new rules - a pragmatic approach that was well-received by farmers and administrations alike.
In May 2015, the deadline for submitting aid applications for direct payments was extended, to give farmers more time to understand the new requirements.
More flexibility was given to Member States in relation to voluntary coupled support payments, for instance regarding the eligibility conditions or the possibility to transfer funds between different measures.
Second wave (May 2015)
The second wave focused on changes of the Integrated Administration and Control System (IACS) guidelines, which were effective already for claim year 2015.
These changes concern the guideline documents on Ecological Focus Area (EFA) layer, On-the-spot check (OTSC), Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS) and Aid applications.
They are based on the following six simplification proposals presented on the occasion of the Council for Agriculture and Fisheries meeting held on 11 May 2015.
- With regard to the EFA layer, MS were given the flexibility to map only 'declared EFAs' (and not all potential EFAs including those not covered by farmers' declarations);
- Greater flexibility with regard to the identification of some types of EFAs in the EFA layer (benefit for the paying agencies) of the LPIS;
- Further flexibility to allow gaps up to 4 metres in hedges or wooded strips;
- Addressed the issue of adjacent EFAs by recognising a limited buffer area between the farmer's parcel boundary and the adjacent EFA;
- Application of a simplified approach for the identification of some specific types of permanent grassland in the LPIS;
- In the case of incorrect declarations, farmers were allowed to compensate for a missing EFA by another EFA found in the same parcel during an on-the-spot check, even if the latter has not been declared.
Third wave (end 2015, beginning of 2016)
The third wave of simplification resulted in three acts:
- Important amendments were made to the Commission rules for the Integrated Administration and Control System for area related aid (IACS). Member States can now for instance run preventive preliminary cross checks as part of the aid application process, giving applicants the possibility to correct their errors, thus reducing the risk that administrative penalties have to be applied. In the same vein Member States with a low error rate now have the option to reduce the number of on the spot checks for area aids.
The resulting Act was published on 15 December 2015 and applies as from 1 January 2016.
- Simplification elements were also introduced in the delegated act as regards the voluntary coupled scheme and the young farmer scheme.
The support scheme for young farmers was amended to provide Member States with greater flexibility regarding the eligibility of legal persons controlled jointly by young farmers and other farmers.
Changes to the Voluntary coupled Scheme allowed national administration to transfer funds between different measures, allowed modulation of the unit rates of aid and streamlined notifications when changes are made to the voluntary coupled support.
- Further proposals for simplifications with regard to IACS are included in Commission Delegated Regulation (EC) No 640/2014 and concern especially the area of administrative penalties for area related direct payment schemes and rural development measures.
In IACS, a more proportionate system of administrative penalties has been introduced which will lead to a more equitable situation in particular for small farmers while maintaining the effectiveness of the penalty system. In addition a new "yellow card" system for first-time offenders will better take account of the complexities of the basic direct support system.
Concretely, whereas the current system for the calculation of penalties is based on different categories and different rates, a simple, unique and lower level of penalty, which is 1,5 times the area over-declared will be introduced.
The yellow card system will provide that, where the over-declaration is minor (below 10% of the area declared) the administrative penalty of first offenders is reduced by 50%. If a non-compliance is found in the following claim year for the same aid scheme or support measure, the beneficiary concerned will have to pay the part of this administrative penalty which had not been initially applied in the previous year.
All of these changes, most of which are already applicable, are to the direct benefit of both farmers and national administrations as they facilitate the fulfilment of CAP requirements and reduce the burden of controls.
For Rural Development, the 2014-2020 programming exercise was completed in December 2015. Thus, as a first step, it is necessary to assess the use made by the Member States of the simplification options included in the new legal framework for 2014-2020 and to identify good practices which could be further disseminated.
Rural Development, as one of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF), follows the common rules on programming for ESIF. DG AGRI participates in the ESIF High Level Group of Independent Experts on Monitoring Simplification for Beneficiaries established in July and takes part in common ESIF studies, in particular, on the use of the simplification options by Member States and on the harmonisation of ESIF with other EU instruments.
In the end of April 2016 changes were made to implementing rules on rural development to simplify the publicity requirements for smaller beneficiaries and the programming rules for financial instruments by lowering the publicity obligations in certain cases.
As regards direct payments, a comprehensive review of the greening arrangements has started in December 2015 with a detailed public consultation. The Commission has published a Staff Working Document. On the basis of this document the Commission has come forward with proposals for simplifications. These proposals are currently being finalised with a view to having them adopted before end 2016 and applied as from Claim Year 2017.
In the area of market support the existing Commission level acts will be consolidated from currently more than 200 regulations to no more than 40. This also is an opportunity for simplifications regarding for instance public intervention and private storage, import and export licenses, wine support schemes etc.
Further simplification activities
- REFIT Programme
The Commission Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), which was launched in 2012 (COM(2012)746 ) , has as objective to review the entire stock of EU legislation in order to identify burdens, inconsistencies, gaps or ineffective measures that may have appeared over time and to make the necessary proposals to follow up on the findings of the review.
An initial screening and mapping of the EU acquis, to which all DGs contributed, was carried out in spring 2013. The screening showed what the Commission has done in recent years to keep its legislation fit for purpose and to simplify and reduce costs.Certain parts of the EU agricultural legislation are subject to the REFIT Programme. Legislative actions by DG AGRI that lead to simplification and regulatory burden reduction are listed in the REFIT scoreboard. A good example of such action is the recently adopted proposal for an organic farming regulation, (Proposal for a Regulation of the EP and of the Council on production and labelling of organic products on 24 March 2014 COM(2014)180). The regulation will bring improvements to the overall quality of the legislation and improved accessibility of the rules while at the same time simplifying procedures for operators and national administrations as well as for control bodies.
- The Harvest Experience Programme
The programme whose implementation started in 2010 has for objective to give Commission officials a deepened understanding of the reality on the field and of the challenges faced by the agricultural sector, so as to make them better placed to draft policies and legislation that connect with that reality.The open exchange of views and experiences with farmers and other operators also makes it possible to collect and develop new ideas for simplification.
The Common Agricultural Policy is shaped by a vast number of rules. On a regular basis these rules are reviewed and obsolete elements and rules that have no practical relevance are removed from the CAP.
DG AGRI initiatives and its actions of simplification supported
- Evaluation of administrative burden:
- "Study on administrative burden reduction associated with the implementation of certain Rural Development measures" (08/2011)
- Opinion of the High Level Group on administrative burden reduction in the priority area 'Agriculture / Agricultural Subsidies' (March 2009).