AGRICULTURE Minister Simon Coveney has said it’s decision time on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The time for debate was over and decisions have to be made on the overhaul of farm policy, Mr Coveney said on his way into the crunch talks in Brussels.
Mr Coveney has this afternoon begun a series of “confessionals” or individual meetings with the farm minister of each EU country and EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in a bid to reach a workable deal.
The stakes are high as the CAP distributes around €50bn a year to farmers and rural communities in Europe including around €1.5bn in Ireland, and the EU Commission has been seeking radical changes to how the money is shared out between farmers.
The talks are expected to last into the early hours tonight in the hope Mr Coveney - in his role as President of the European Farm Council - can then present a revised proposal tomorrow morning that member states can agree on.
Mr Coveney said it was the most important council meeting he had attended.
“This is a reform. It’s not just about protecting the status quo. There will be winners and losers and farmers at home will be intensively debating it,” Mr Coveney said.
“We have to move from debating this reform to actually deciding it”, he said.
There were 27 different Minister with 27 different sets of priorities, all literally speaking different languages, he said.
“Our job is to find a compromise that everyone can live with,” he said.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said an alliance was building between Ireland and southern European countries of Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece who want to limit redistribution of CAP payments within countries.
The IFA has opposed a significant redistribution of direct payments, because it argues this would take money away from the most productive farmers in Ireland and give it to large landholders who don’t produce much food.
However there are divisions amongst farmers on this as 70,000 smaller farmers in disadvantaged areas would benefit from a bigger redistribution.
It’s believed that a political agreement will be reached in Brussels by the end of tomorrow’s meeting, although influential Germany is strongly opposing a proposal to put a new ceiling of €300,000 on individual payments to farmers.
Germany also wants to water down proposals to link payments to environmental measures on farms.
ICMSA President, John Comer, said that Mr Coveney’s "primary objective must be to ensure that Ireland receives the maximum flexibility that will enable us to address the problems that are unique to our situation".
Mr Comer said "Minister Coveney must not take a single step back from defending the interests of active Irish farmers and the wider agri-sector that rests on that group".
If a political deal is reached tomorrow the Commission and the Parliament will then hammer out the final details of reform over the next three months.
IFA President John Bryan said that under the redistribution of CAP payments which is a key element of the reform proposals, they were seeking a minimum payment of around €130 per hectare farmed instead of the €196 being sought by the EU Commission.
The current CAP payments are based on historical food production rates which are up to a decade old. The system means the most productive farmers are paid significantly more. The Commission now want to redistribute this money so that it is paid per hectare of land.
However the IFA argues that if too much money is taken away from very productive farmers who get a higher rate per hectare farmed, and given to less productive farmers who just happen to have a lot of land it will damage food production in Ireland.