Wednesday 21 November 2018

'It'll be a huge challenge' - Hogan says EU states have to stump up €12bn shortfall after Brexit

  • Hogan says EU states have to pay more to make up €12bn shortfall after Brexit
  • Says Ireland is prepared in principle to increase its own Brussels contribution
Ireland's European Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Fergal Phillips
Ireland's European Commissioner Phil Hogan Picture: Fergal Phillips

John Downing and Louise Hogan

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has challenged other member states to increase their contributions to make up the €10bn-€12bn budget shortfall caused by Brexit.

Mr Hogan said the EU's farm budget cannot be allowed lie this huge loss, and also risk being hit by other fund demands to coordinate a response to terrorist attacks, and deal with an ongoing refugee crisis.

"We need sustained funding to renew farming in Europe to ensure future food security, bring in young farmers, and above all to meet our international environmental obligations including tackling climate change," Mr Hogan told the Irish Independent.

The Irish commissioner, responsible for 38pc of the EU Budget totalling some €40bn per year, delivered a robust defence of his plans to reform the EU's Common Agriculture Policy.

He said he had spent the last three years touring all 27 member states listening to farmers.

"The strong message which I got in all the member states, including Ireland, was that farmers want more flexibility from Brussels' rules locally, a simpler rule regime, and help to get more young people into a business which has a largely ageing population," he said.

Mr Hogan said that his draft proposals, launched in Brussels on Wednesday, are about "evolution and not revolution" in EU farm policy.

He now felt confident that they can be endorsed by the 27 EU member states before he leaves office in autumn 2019 - despite the clear upset which is being caused by the UK's departure in March 2019.

He noted that Ireland, which is now a net contributor to EU coffers, was prepared in principle to increase its own Brussels contribution and he hoped the other more prosperous countries will adopt the same stance.

"It will be a huge challenge and require constant lobbying. But I am confident that it can be done," he added.

But Mr Hogan also conceded that it will not be possible to sustain EU support for a food production sector that does not meet its international obligations. These include a sector based on assuring security of quality food supply and minimising pollution while also honouring commitments under the COP21 agreement on carbon emissions reductions.

"Above all there is a need to bring in younger farmers as the age profile in the sector - including Ireland - is increasing at an alarming rate.

"What we have in mind to tackle this is more installation aid grants and other incentives which can also be taken up by member states," Mr Hogan said.

The commissioner said he was generally pleased with a broad welcome for moves to allow member states draw up their own detailed rules and procedures to implement EU broad policy goals. "We have to move away from the one size fits all. This is a chance for member governments, including Ireland, to tailor their own rules with implications for the various sectors," he said.

He added that it was too early to be specific about the implications for each sector of the Irish industry. Equally, he conceded that certain parts of the broad outline plans may have to be adapted or varied.

Mr Hogan conceded that efforts to cap EU grant aid at between €60,000 to €100,000 per farm, per year, may well lead to bigger operators sub-dividing holdings to get round the cap. "But that is happening already in any case. In that scenario we have to rely more upon "degressive payments"which give more aid to a first tranche of land and then taper off as holding sizes increase," he explained.

This might also help address the reality that 80pc of EU farm aid goes to 20pc of the farms. "The problem here is that 80pc of the land is owned by 20pc of the farmers and we have an area-based regime of support. But again, 'degressivity' and other schemes targeting farmers with smaller or medium holdings will also be a help," the commissioner said.

Before joining the policy-guiding EU Commission in November 2014, Phil Hogan spent 27 years at Leinster House in various capacities. Clearly, he observed the political tumult from afar with some interest over the past week.

He is increasingly loath to comment on Irish national politics, saying his job now is to frame EU farm and food policy. But he did pay tribute to Frances Fitzgerald, who was forced to resign her job on Tuesday.

"The former tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald, is a good friend who did a very good job in government during difficult times. Taking the right decision, balancing family and political obligations, is difficult, but she has acted always with honour and I wish her well," he said.

Irish Independent

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