TALKS on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are proving difficult because of strong divisions over how much farmers should get in EU handouts.
Attempts to hammer out a deal will resume today in Brussels after continuing into the early hours of this morning.
Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney – who is chairing the talks – said last night there were strong divisions on a range of topics, including how payments to farmers are distributed and the future of sugar quotas.
There was a strong ideological divide between countries that wanted to shelter certain sectors, and those that wanted to move to a more free-market situation, he said.
Mr Coveney met with the farm minister of every member state last night to discuss their "red line issues" in order to try and come up with a workable reform proposal to discuss today.
Because of Ireland's EU Presidency he has the dual task of coming up with a proposal that will secure political agreement from all 27 EU countries today as well as keeping farmers in Ireland happy.
Mr Coveney admitted it was a difficult task, as every country had different priorities and there was a lot of money at stake – including €1.5bn a year in Ireland.
"The losers want to minimise their losses and the gainers want to maximise their gains, and the same goes for countries as well," Mr Coveney said.
One of the most contentious issues is the proposed redistribution of CAP payments to farmers, moving towards an average payment per hectare instead of the old system, which was based on how much food individuals produced a decade ago.
"That means some of the higher earners losing and the low earners gaining as everyone moves towards an average payment, that's a very heated issue in Ireland," said Mr Coveney.
The EU Commission has been seeking a system that would move towards a minimum payment of around €196 per hectare, but the Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) is strongly opposed to this and called yesterday for a much lower minimum payment rate of around €130 per hectare.
If a deal is reached today it will be the basis for final negotiations between the EU Commission and Parliament over coming months.