EU moves closer to agreeing on new agricultural policy

* EU sugar policy remains among unresolved issues

LUXEMBOURG, (Reuters) – European Union farm ministers reached a revised negotiating position as the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, raising hopes that a new common agricultural policy will be agreed today as talks moved to Brussels.

“We now have a clear updated mandate … There’s lots of momentum here,” Irish farm minister Simon Coveney, who chairs the council of agriculture ministers, told reporters following two days of negotiations in Luxembourg.

EU agriculture policy is decided jointly by EU farm ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

Talks will be held in Brussels today, starting at 1000 CET (0800 GMT), in a bid to resolve outstanding issues.

“There are some difficult issues to resolve. I am not predicting it is going to be easy. It is not,” Coveney said.

One of the main objectives is to shift to subsidies that are based on the size of agricultural holdings, replacing the current link between farm payments and historical production levels in many parts of Europe.

Issues that still need to be resolved include the deadline for abolishing EU sugar production quotas, which are blamed for pushing up domestic prices and limiting European sugar exports.

A key sticking point in talks could also be who makes the key decisions on issues such as market intervention, with the European Parliament wanting an increased role, something which ministers have been reluctant to accept.

Coveney said no member state voted against the revised mandate which the Irish minister will take into talks today as the EU seeks to finalize a new farm policy for 2014-2020.

There were, however, abstentions from Germany and Britain related to their opposition to giving a greater role to the European Parliament in the decision making process.

“Most of the big things that matter to farmers have been concluded,” Coveney said.

Agriculture will consume nearly 40 percent of the bloc’s 960 billion euro ($1.3 trillion) budget for 2014-2020 – the period covered by the reform – ensuring it remains the biggest single item of EU expenditure.