European Commissioner for agriculture, Franz Fischler - the crusader of farm reform in Europe - yesterday defended his much maligned proposed amendments to the common agricultural policy (CAP) before MEPs in the European Parliament.
Speaking prior to the crucial meeting of European agriculture ministers in Luxembourg next week, the Commissioner revealed a note of flexibility, stating that much of what Parliament was proposing was worthy of consideration and that the Commission was able to accept some of Parliament's proposed amendments.
But he remained firm on the most controversial aspect of CAP, 'decoupling', otherwise known as the link between production and subsidy.
This link has been criticised as an incentive for EU farmers to overproduce just to win more cash from Brussels, causing the notorious wine lakes and butter mountains of previous years.
"We don't want too many exceptions, we don't want to lose sight of the aim of total decoupling," Fischler told MEPs in Strasbourg at the plenary debate.
Adding that keeping aid tied to production prevents farmers from doing what is commercially most meaningful for them.
But even in this area he showed some flexibility stating that "there are also solid arguments for leaving various sensitive areas of production out of decoupling, such as suckler cows and sheep and goat premiums."
Under EU law, the European Parliament must be consulted before major changes can be agreed to agriculture policy, although its recommendations have no legal force.
In May, MEPs had voiced their displeasure over some of Fischler's bolder ideas by threatening to delay their debate, which would have sabotaged the formal vote due to be taken next week by farm ministers in Luxembourg on 11 June.
Such an act would have presented the EU with a serious problem in its preparation for a meeting of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Cancun the same month.
A deal on EU farm reform - and the liberalisation thereof - is widely believed to be crucial to the overall success of the WTO's Doha round of trade liberalisation talks.
But not all are against the decoupling principle. The Chief Livestock Adviser for the UK National Farmers Union (NFU) this week wholeheartedly backed the decoupling reform. Kevin Pearce told a sheep farmer conference that replacing production-based subsidies with a single farm payment will bring greater business flexibility.
"If they are agreed, producers will no longer be restricted by quotas, retention periods and the administrative burdens of the current support systems. Instead they will be able to focus on producing lamb and maximising market opportunities," said Pearce.
But he warned producers that suggestions that there should be partial decoupling in place of the proposed full decoupling would be extremely bad news for sheep producers.
"This would bring increased bureaucracy and more barriers for producers aiming to focus on the market."
"European farm ministers must seize this opportunity to break the livestock sector free from the shackles of the current livestock support systems and replace it with a payment structure that supports farmers in a way that is not over-bureaucratic and not market distorting." The future of farm reform lies fully in the hands of the European agriculture ministers - all will be eagerly awaiting their decisions next week.