IRISH Farm Minister Simon Coveney has given the clearest indication yet that a CAP reform deal will be secured during his country’s presidency of the EU – but it may take until the end of June to get it.
Speaking to representatives of the various agri stakeholder groups at CAFRE’s Loughry campus the minister outlined a three step process, which will be required to allow the EU Parliament, Europe’s Farm Minister and Heads of State to sign off on an agreed CAP deal.
“Step one in the process may well be completed next week when heads of state meet to agree a long term budget for the EU as a whole,” he added.
“This may well see a cut, certainly in real terms, in the amount of future funding available to agriculture. However, in my opinion, the securing of a long term agreement on the EU’s finances will make the attainment of a CAP reform package even more important. In very simple terms, the securing of a new deal for agriculture will provide Farm Ministers with the ammunition to argue for the best possible funding package on behalf of primary producers.
“Stage two in the reform process will be the securing of a policy framework agreement by EU Farm Ministers. This may well be achieved in March. Thereafter, it will be a case of all relevant groupings – heads of state, farm ministers and representatives of the European Parliament – to thrash out a final deal.”
Simon Coveney went on to point out that failure to secure a CAP over the coming months will have serious consequences for EU agriculture.
“Yes the current CAP structures may well be retained. However, funding levels will almost certainly be cut in line with the overall funding reductions that may be agreed by heads of state next week. In such circumstances the farming industry will have little or no say over its own future,” he further explained.
“If we can’t get a CAP reform deal before the ends of June, the various national and w elections planned for the coming twelve months or so could well intervene to set the entire reform process back by at least two years.”
Mr Coveney concluded: “I remain optimistic, however, that a CAP deal will be secured before the end of Ireland’s presidency. The increasingly pragmatic approach now been shown by the European Commission and the various groupings that will be involved in forging a final deal gives me hope that we can cross the line some time during June.
Northern Ireland’s Farm Minister Michelle O’Neill also spoke at the Loughry event.
She said: “I welcome the fact that the Agriculture Committee of the European Parliament has just voted on its compromise amendments to the CAP reform proposals, as this marks a significant step forward. I‘m particularly pleased to see that the general direction of travel is in line with my own thoughts, even though there are still many detailed issues and concerns to be addressed.
“We all know that the CAP is critically important in underpinning farm viability and sustaining rural communities in the north. It is clear that the reform proposals will introduce very significant changes to the system of direct support for the farming sector.
“But given the diversity of farming systems and structures across Europe, it is vital that we build flexibility into that overall support framework. And wherever the CAP reform legislation allows implementation options to be decided at Member State level, these same options must also be made available at regional level.
“Currently, the reform proposals do give explicit regional flexibility in terms of the basic payment scheme and the greening payment. However, this same flexibility needs to be extended to encompass the young farmers, small farmers, ANC Pillar I and coupled payment schemes, as well as the funding and operation of the national reserve.
“One of the core reform proposals is the suggested transition to a flat rate support regime. I have always recognised that we cannot justify continuing unchanged with the present system, where the level of payments to individual farmers is based largely on historic production patterns and subsidy claims in the period from 2000 to 2002.
“However, it is equally clear that in moving to a flat rate regime, the re-distribution of payments between farmers will pose a major challenge for the industry as a whole – a challenge which must be managed extremely carefully.
“The proposed requirement to distribute at least 40% of the basic payment budget on a flat rate basis in the first year of the reform - alongside a flat rate greening payment - represents a rate of transition that is much too steep. In my view, that 40% requirement needs to be greatly reduced, and I so am greatly encouraged that the EU Agriculture Committee has suggested a much lower figure of 10%.