'EU auditors are ignoring importance of direct payments to farmers'- Hogan

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. Photo: Reuters
Claire Fox

Claire Fox

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has hit out at the EU Court of Auditors for “ignoring” evidence provided to them on the importance of direct payments to farmers.

Mr Hogan made the comments at a debate this afternoon, on the opinion put forward by the EU Court of Auditors earlier this month, which questioned why the largest part of the CAP budget is direct payments to farmers.

“I am very surprised by a number of the comments made in relation to direct payments and their importance, particularly in relation to the viability of farm incomes,” Commissioner Hogan said.

“The Court’s opinion claims that the needs assessment is insufficient and that the Commission did not provide robust economic evidence for the final options for maintaining traditional CAP measures, including direct payments.

“I am bound to ask whether it is the position of the Court that direct payments to farmers should be abolished?

“Our view is that, while the Court invites the Commission to be evidence-based, it then ignores evidence provided by DG AGRI on farm income, including basic facts about its level, distribution and comparison with the rest of the economy.”

Mr Hogan outlined that a removal of the CAP would lead to an 18pc drop in farm incomes across the EU, “thus threatening the economic viability and attractiveness of rural areas, provoking a sizeable decline in production, leading to land abandonment and increased pressure on the environment.”

MEP Mairead McGuinness added: “Ask any farmers in my constituency who rely distinctly on farm income supports and they will give you evidence of cuts. You’ve failed to take in to account the desire of farmers to deliver for the environment. They are doing it and want to do it. We need guidance here, not a debate."

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Commissioner Hogan also hit criticised the Court of Auditors for “misunderstanding” the draft CAP proposal which he said was “regrettable” since the Court of Auditors had been involved in discussions on the proposal with the Commission “as early as January 2017”.

He went on to “fundamentally reject” the Court’s claim that the new CAP proposal’s environmental policy lacks ambition.

Mr João Figueiredo of the Court of Auditors responded that he “didn’t accept” Commissioner Hogan’s comments that the Court does not understand the proposal and outlined that it had made clear that it had “doubts” about the proposal in its meetings with the Commission from the start.

Mr Figueiredo added that the Court was not “attacking” direct payments but questioning why the largest amount of the budget continues to be Direct Payments as it feels it isn’t the most efficient way of supporting a viable income or protecting the environment.

“How can we safely say that the contribution of CAP environment  will be 40pc when the current CAP is 19.6pc? How can we say that we jump from 19 to 40? We don’t see how we can make this jump and as an auditor I have to say this,” he said.

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