THE Ulster Farmers’ Union says votes taken this week by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee are a significant step in the right direction for the CAP reform process.
For the first time in the history of the Common Agricultural Policy, the European Parliament will have equal say in the reform of the policy through a process known as co-decision making.
UFU president Harry Sinclair said: “MEP’s in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee reached agreement this week on important matters relating to farmers direct support, rural development, market support measures and financing and monitoring CAP. They have produced a more specific definition of active farmers, more flexibility on the transition process to a new support system and a more flexible approach to ‘greening’ requirements including possible exemptions for grassland farmers and the principle of equivalence. They have also supported a more proportionate inspection and penalty system, the inclusion of locally important plants including heather as eligible for the Single Farm Payment and the removal of a ban on first ploughing of certain carbon rich soils. Collectively these views have moved the CAP reform proposals in the right direction for local farmers.”
The UFU says several important areas still remain outstanding including: the balance of funding between direct and market support measures; the UK’s low share of the EU’s Rural Development Budget; the possible re-opening and further delay of LFA re-designation; and insufficient flexibility on grassland conversion.
Mr Sinclair said: “The EU Parliament will now begin negotiating with the EU Agriculture Council of Ministers and the European Commission through the co-decision making process. The next hurdle in the process is the EU Heads of State Budget Summit in early February. The UFU will be joining forces with farming leaders from across Europe in Brussels in advance of the Summit to emphasise the need for strong CAP funding. Our policy representatives are also meeting with Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney who is now in an influential position as Chair of the EU Council of Agriculture Ministers for the next six months. Considerable progress is now being made although it is more likely that the reforms won’t be implemented until 2015, which means a roll-over for a further year of the present direct support arrangements. It remains important that a way is found to ensure existing rural development measures such as LFA support and agri-environment schemes can continue to be funded in the interim during 2014.”