Sigh of relief as CAP reform deal is agreed
IRISH MEPs from across the political spectrum who have spent almost two years negotiating CAP reform have given a broad welcome to the deal struck in Brussels last Wednesday.
The package hammered out between the European Parliament, Commission and Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney on behalf of member states will govern the EU's agricultural policy from 2014 until 2020, representing a €12 billion package for Ireland in that period.
While MEPs differed on some elements of the deal, including whether or not significant changes to the Single Farm Payment would benefit Irish farmers, there was a collective sigh of relief that agreement had been reached in the 11th hour of Ireland's EU presidency.
An elated Jim Higgins MEP summed up the sense of achievement by describing the deal, reached in what some feared was an impossibly short timetable, as "the single greatest accomplishment of the Irish presidency".
Fianna Fáil MEP Liam Aylward also praised the flexibility incorporated into the package, but warned that "the devil is now in the detail" in terms of interpreting and implementing the measures at national level.
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said the debate should now begin in Ireland "based on the flexibilities in the package to best fit the situation on Irish farms".
Under the new system, the distribution of single farm payments will be calculated on a per hectare basis instead of being linked to past productivity, with farmers to be entitled to a minimum level of payment. It's understood this will negatively affect Irish farmers on higher payments, but that those on below average payments will enjoy an increase.
IFA President John Bryan has criticised what he says is a "flawed process" which he warns will result in 50,000 of Ireland's most productive farmers losing between 15 and 35 per cent of their overall payment by 2019.
However, Jim Higgins MEP insisted that the new CAP will allow for a fairer distribution of the single farm payment for the majority of Irish farmers.
Mr Higgins and his Fine Gael colleague Mairead McGuinness both approved of the strengthening of support for young farmers, whereby member states must provide a 25 per cent top up, which can apply to the average entitlement value and not just the basic payment.
Fine Gael MEP Sean Kelly welcomed the decision to end sugar quotas by 2017 as "an ideal time-frame", coinciding with the target date for opening a new sugar or bio-fuel plant in Ireland. "It's a new dawn for Irish sugar; stakeholders can now begin to lay real plans for a revival of our once-vibrant sugar industry," he said.
Among the sticking points noted by Irish MEPs were the controversial capping of payments and the moving of money between the various rural development schemes known as Pillar I and Pillar II. The IFA has asked the government to commit to a 50/50 co-financing of Pillar II schemes in order to put in place a comprehensive package of rural development measures for vulnerable sectors.