* Ciolos: final outcome will depend on wider political talks
* Does not expect major opposition to key reform proposals
By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Europe’s top farm official said his proposals to overhaul the European Union’s farm policy from 2014 represent a profound reform, despite having resisted calls to make deep cuts to the bloc’s farm spending.
The EU’s agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos presented plans on Wednesday to reform the common agricultural policy (CAP) from 2014, while keeping farm spending at roughly its current level of 55 billion euros ($75 billion) per year up to 2020.
Critics of the CAP had urged the European Commission to take advantage of high global food prices and cut the huge subsidies it pays to farmers.
But against a backdrop of increasing market volatility, resource scarcity and climate change, Ciolos said current subsidies should be maintained, but redirected towards tackling the threats facing farmers.
“For me, a profound reform of the CAP doesn’t have to mean a smaller budget. It means a fundamental revision of the objectives and the instruments to achieve them,” he told reporters in a briefing before announcing the proposals.
The overall size of the farm budget will ultimately be decided in separate talks between EU governments on the bloc’s next long-term budget for 2014-20, announced in June.
Ciolos, who is Romanian, said the final shape of the reform would depend on the outcome of those budget talks, in which some large member states with high deficits are looking to cut overall EU spending to help ease pressure on public finances.
“We will need favourable political conditions to agree the overall EU budget, on which the CAP budget is dependent, and on which the final shape of the CAP reform is dependent,” he said.
Asked how the reform plans would have to be adapted if EU governments did decide to cut the CAP budget, he said: “Those are changes that governments and the European Parliament would have to make, but I hope that won’t be the case.”
Ciolos said he did not foresee any major opposition to his proposals from EU governments and lawmakers, who must now approve them.
“On the key elements of the reform, I don’t think there will be majority opposition. I think the differences in position will be on how to achieve specific objectives in one member state or another.”
Ciolos said previous CAP reforms had dismantled EU price support and drastically reduced the use of controversial market management tools such as export subsidies.
“We eliminated certain market measures without replacing them with other tools, because the economic context was favourable. The current volatility wasn’t there before, and nor was the pressure that we clearly see on natural resources.”
As a result, the Commission has proposed making it easier to activate existing market management tools such as public intervention and private storage aid in response to volatility.
Plans to force farmers to meet new environmental criteria to qualify for full EU subsidies drew an angry reaction from the EU’s main farming union.
Copa-Cogeca said proposals requiring arable farmers to grow at least three different crops, and forcing all farms to leave seven percent of their farmland ecologically fallow, would force up costs and reduce total output.
But Ciolos said EU agriculture needed to be both economically and environmentally sustainable to flourish.
“If we keep artificially separating the issues of environmental protection and economic performance, I don’t think it’s best way of securing the long-term competitiveness of EU agriculture,” he said. ($1 = 0.733 Euros) (Reporting by Charlie Dunmore; editing by Rex Merrifield and Keiron Henderson)