Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 22 October 2018

Opinion: Hogan under pressure to deliver CAP reforms amid flak over his 'green agenda'

Phil Hogan
Phil Hogan
John Downing

John Downing

Irish farmers will be pleased to hear that Phil Hogan is doing well in the Brussels minefield as the EU Agriculture Commissioner.

It's always good to see one of our own doing well on the international stage. But the read at home on the big Kilkenny man will depend much on how he can balance the in-built conflict in being the 'European' Commissioner, while also meeting the reasonable demands of Irish farm lobbyists at a time of profound changes.

Last week he published plans for fundamental changes in EU farm policy for the years 2021-27. It will see the overall agriculture budget share drop from 38pc to some 28pc, partly due to a €12bn hole caused by the UK's departure, and in part due to pressures for more spending on things like EU security, migration and other policy areas.

And then there are pressures to deliver an EU trade deal with the South American Mercosur states which has considerable implications for agricultural trade - not least Irish beef.

The former Fine Gael kingpin and environment minister has impressed in Brussels since his swearing-in for a five-year term back in November 2014. He is well liked for his affable and easy-going way of dealing with people, and rated as a politician who can cut a canny deal.

It was notable during the Brexit campaign in 2016 that he was among the very few allowed by the Brussels machine to go and speak on the issue in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Clearly, his interventions did not tip the balance, but more importantly they did not antagonise anyone.

Hogan also had a big moment in December 2017 when he was credited with rescuing a major EU-Japan trade deal which was threatened by a bitter row over Japanese soft cheese. Using his political nous, he proposed a compromise which put things back on course.

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His detractors in Brussels are in a minority. But he has faced sharp criticism from people like the Bavarian MEP Albert Dess, and other more traditional MEPs from the French rural heartland.

Their recurring criticism is that Hogan is unduly embracing of the 'green agenda' and too taken with things like the need to address climate change. They argue that these things are detrimental to what the traditional CAP should be doing for farm families and rural communities.

It will amaze many in Ireland, but he has been dubbed as "just too green" by some critics in Brussels.

Against these criticisms there is the realpolitik that these issues are not going to go away. If Hogan fails to confront them now, farmers and everybody else risk paying a much higher price very soon.

Time is very short for him to shepherd his farm reform plans over the line ahead of the deadline of the European Parliament elections next May.

It means next March, also the deadline for signing off a UK 'withdrawal agreement' is a big date for him and the EU generally.

There will be some frenetic activity in the coming months in Brussels. Increasingly, the EU leaders' summit in October is emerging as the witching hour for Ireland's key Brexit interests, notably the future of the Border and our huge agri-trade with Britain.

But a mid-December leaders' summit is also crucial for an overall budget deal which would include the future CAP funding framework. In his favour, Hogan's proposals are seen as flexible enough to avoid too many major obstacles.

Losers

But watch Poland in all of this. They see themselves as the biggest losers in the new farm funding regime and this may compound their already poor relationship with the EU.

Of course, it is not Commissioner Hogan's job to help Ireland in the upcoming tough negotiations. But his knowledge of this country's specific problems and issues, and a personal relationship with his interlocutors in Dublin, will be no load to Ireland at all here.

The major task will be for Agriculture Minister Michael Creed and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. If they can come up with innovative approaches they should find the Agriculture Commissioner's door at least half-open to them in stemming losses estimated at up to €1bn amid 5pc cuts in direct payments.

There is no doubt that Phil Hogan would get a very senior post in a new EU Commission post after November 2019. The Taoiseach of the day will have a big say in all of that.

John Downing is an Irish Independent political correspondent


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