More flexibility to European Union (EU) countries to support young farmers, more ecological focus areas, more support for farmers facing income losses – these were just some of the proposed improvements to EU agri-food policy agreed by EU member states on 16 October 2017. The changes to the four main regulations governing the common agricultural policy (CAP) will enter only into force once a deal on all aspects on the overall proposal (the so-called Omnibus regulation) is reached.

Simplifying the common agricultural policy is at the top of the European Commission's agenda, part of its wider reflection on shaping the future of the CAP. The simplified rules agreed as part of the Omnibus concern direct payments, rural development, the common market organisation and horizontal regulation, and will benefit farmers in a number of ways:
  • direct payments: changes to the definition of arable land and permanent grassland (better reflecting the conditions under which land can be kept in production); flexibility for EU countries on how to define the notion of "active farmer" (important to assess who can benefit from EU direct payments) and to increase the top-up for young farmers from 25 per cent to 50 per cent of the basic payment entitlement; a new greening package, adding plant varieties that can be used in ecological focus areas
  • rural development: improved risk management to help farmers tackle income losses (threshold for income losses reduced from 30 per cent to 20 per cent and increase from 65 per cent to 70 per cent the level of compensation)
  • common market organisation: milk package extended beyond 2020; cooperation between farmers improved, for example by provisions for producer organisations to plan production and negotiate contracts on behalf of their members, thus strengthening their position in the food chain (further proposals for which are currently undergoing a public consultation on the food supply chain until 17 November)
The Omnibus regulation concerns the financial rules applicable to the general budget of the European Union. The proposal was published in 2016 as part of the review package of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) – the EU's long-term budget. It includes changes applicable to all four of the basic CAP regulations, with the aim of further simplifying the common agricultural policy.

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