Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson recently met with representatives from the European Court of Auditors to discuss the need for flexibility in relation to the implementation of the reformed CAP.
The ECA is the independent, external body established to audit the EU’s budget and policies. Mr Nicholson was part of a delegation of MEPs consisting of Coordinators from the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the work of the ECA and the priorities and concerns of MEPs.
Speaking after the meeting Mr Nicholson said: “This meeting was a useful opportunity for MEPs to learn more about the role of the ECA and for us to make the ECA aware of the difficulties facing farmers as the complex new CAP is implemented.
“Auditing public expenditure is crucially important but there is considerable concern about the problems being experienced on the ground because of this complexity and lack of clear guidance. Because of the on-going lack of detailed information I am concerned that draconian penalties will be applied in a number of years’ time if the ECA feels the CAP was not rolled out correctly. Northern Ireland has experience of this in the past, with large fines being imposed in relation to mapping.
“The ECA actually warned the European Commission about the impact of the increased complexity and cost of the extra administrative burden when the CAP was being negotiated, these concerns were largely ignored and now the chickens are coming home to roost. Farmers are still lacking important information from DARD which is needed to allow them to make business decisions. This is causing difficulties and confusion for many farm businesses and must be addressed.
“During our discussion with the ECA I made it clear that there must be flexibility given the complexity of the new CAP. I also made the point that there needs to be a better understanding about the realities of farming on the ground, farmers feel that many officials do not know one end of a cow from the other.”