Ciolos saying what we don't want to hear
Published 14/12/2011 | 06:00
My first visit to the corridors of power in Brussels last week was an experience I would recommend to anyone. It is only when you are standing in the parliament complex that the immensity of the EU machine suddenly becomes tangible.
Despite representing less than 1pc of the EU's population, Ireland is well represented and certainly not ignored by the officials in DG Agri that spend their working lives pouring over the minutiae of CAP reform.
The Brussels bureaucrat is a much maligned creature but I was impressed with their capacity not only to flip-flop between very technical terms in several languages, but also their ability to field questions about the impact of changes in direct payments for tobacco production in Romania to what constituted ecological set-aside in Connemara.
Commissioner Dacian Ciolos was among the most impressive, and, to my mind at least, growing in confidence in his role. However, not everything that he had to say will be what Irish farmers will want to hear.
He is convinced that it would be folly for any lobby group to argue for a reduction in the 30pc of the CAP budget that is to be ring-fenced for environmental measures or so-called 'greening'. In the Commissioner's opinion, by putting this money in the 'green' box, it safeguards it from future cuts. He also believes that it needs to be compulsory to make sure that no one member state gets a productivity advantage over another by picking and choosing what they want to enforce on the ground.
While the Commission's officials have been at pains to develop greening rules that are as straight forward as possible, many of the stipulations are likely to generate a bonanza for agricultural advisers. For example, it is likely that 'landscape features' such as hedges, trees and even stone walls will all need to be measured and mapped as farmers strive to fulfil the requirement to have 7pc of their land set-aside as 'ecological areas'.
When asked whether he was concerned about the massive €60bn CAP budget being cut due to the financial flux that has gripped the EU, Mr Ciolos told me that it was too early to know what impact, if any, the current turmoil would have in specific areas.