Farm Ireland

Monday 25 March 2019

Concern a delay in new CAP will undermine low-income farmers

Colm O'Donnell, INHFA chairman at a previous protest outside Enda Kenny's constituency office in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo: Michael McLaughlin
Colm O'Donnell, INHFA chairman at a previous protest outside Enda Kenny's constituency office in Castlebar, Co Mayo. Photo: Michael McLaughlin
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters

Sarah Collins and Ciaran Moran

Farmers have raised concerns that the seemingly likely delay in the rollout of a new CAP will undermine low-income farmers.

Between Brexit, EU elections, a post-2020 budget stalemate and growing fears about the avalanche of paperwork the new CAP will bring with it, MEPs and EU agriculture ministers are taking their time over the talks.

With ongoing uncertainty around Brexit there is stated INHFA President Colm O’Donnell “the real possibility of any new CAP deal, not starting until 2021 or even 2022.”

In this eventuality he continued farmers with low Pillar 1 payments who are often depending on additional income support from Pillar 2 Schemes such as GLAS or AEOS will need to be protected.

When previous CAP Programs did not start up as expected measures were put in place to roll over schemes and stated O’Donnell our Government needs to commit to this and get clarity in Brussels on it if required.

Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed recently said of the Commission's bid to kickstart the new CAP next year that he doesn't think it's going to be achievable.

 "I think the timeline is challenging, and therefore you're going to be looking at a requirement to roll over existing schemes for a while," he told this newspaper.

Under the new rules, EU governments will be required to submit "CAP strategic plans" each year, setting out how they intend to use EU money (which will require prior approval from the Commission). They will also have to provide "performance reports" to show they are meeting nine EU-wide targets, which all have climate-related elements.

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MEPs in Parliament's agriculture committee are currently arguing amongst themselves over the new measures, adding close to 5,000 amendments to the Commission's draft proposal.

They won't vote on their final position until April. And with the European elections threatening to see in more Eurosceptic MEPs in May, a deal could be even more difficult to get later on in the year.

Farm ministers, meanwhile, have spent their regular monthly meetings treading old ground, not yet exchanging negotiating texts.

What's clear from those meetings is that while there is a majority of EU countries against the CAP budget cuts - France and Ireland are in the lead here - it is less clear how the Commission's root-and-branch reform of direct payments will play out. And at least 23 EU countries want to delay the new progress reports, or at least space them out every two years rather than annually.

On the money itself: The Commission wants future subsidies to "converge" towards an EU average across countries, to "redistribute" aid from bigger to smaller farms, and for direct payments to be capped at €100,000.

Agriculture ministers have had interminable discussions on each of these issues, but it has largely involved reading out convoluted speeches rather than engaging in any real debate.

The Irish Government alone has received 164 written submissions from farming organisations on the post-2020 CAP. "That's a direction of travel that we don't really have a difficulty with, but, always, the devil is going to be in the detail of how it is worked out," Mr Creed said.

Still, the budget talks are where he will be concentrating most of his energy. "We're asking for more money for the CAP, and that is one of the critical battles that continues to be waged at different levels," he said.

He has no qualms, he said, about asserting Ireland's new-found weight as a net contributor to the EU budget. "We're putting more, financially, into Europe than we're getting out, and I think that point shouldn't be lost," he said.

Ireland can count on the support of France and Germany in the budget talks, as well as CAP stalwarts Spain and Portugal. Even budget hawks like Austria and Finland want to see an adequately funded CAP, as they have plenty of remote regions to cater for. But publicly, Austria - along with the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark - is pushing for budget cuts across the board. And a decision requires the unanimous approval of the soon-to-be 27 EU countries.

Ask any seasoned Brussels watchers, however, and they'll tell you that the budget talks are likely to be simpler and quicker to deal with than the CAP reform, with EU leaders aiming to reach a preliminary "political" agreement on the budget this autumn.

And with Ireland asking for financial assistance to deal with the effects of Brexit, any extra asks on the CAP may be harder to achieve.

Though Mr Creed says the two issues are completely separate. "I don't see any reason why we should be cowed in terms of our asks in the context of CAP, simply because we're also asking in the context of Brexit."

Online Editors