Farm Ireland

Monday 19 March 2018

Ciolas rejects Irish stance on the SFP

Commissioner-designate seeks fresh farm payments approach

Majella O'Sullivan & Declan O'Brien

Continuation of the historic-based system for calculating the Single Farm Payment (SFP) has been flatly rejected by the EU Commissioner-Designate for Agriculture, Dacian Ciolas.

Mr Ciolas said new criteria was needed for the distribution of direct aid to farmers, and he ruled out basing SFP entitlements on EU direct payments received in previous years.

Mr Ciolas' intervention comes just days after Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith told the IFA AGM that he was not in favour of moving to a flat-rate SFP mechanism.

The SFP for Irish farmers is based on payments received in the three-year reference period of 2000, 2001 and 2002. In contrast, Eastern European farmers receive a flat rate per hectare payment and the Commission wants this system extended across the EU.

While Mr Ciolas, speaking at the European Parliament, said he was committed to maintaining direct payments, he stressed the need for rebalancing aid between farmers and EU member states.

Ireland now faces an uphill battle to maintain the historic-based payment system, which farmer groups argue is essential to support 'active farmers'.

Confirming the extent of the challenge, Department of Agriculture assistant secretary general, Aidan O'Driscoll, told last Friday's Teagasc Outlook seminar that Ireland's position was supported by a diminishing group of EU member states.

A leading thinker on the reformation of the CAP policy, Professor Louis Pascal Mahe, told the Teagasc conference that he expected the SFP to be seriously reformed.

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Professor Mahe, of the AgroCampus research body in France, said the "compensatory logic" for direct payments was now obsolete and a new system needed to offer incentives rather than handouts.

Teagasc director Professor Gerry Boyle admitted that Ireland may have to adapt the SFP system, but he also said he would be loath to dismiss it.

"Fifty-three percent of farmers would gain from moving to a flat rate system," Prof Boyle claimed.

"The losers are the more intensive producers and some would experience significant losses."

But he said a quarter of farmers could see their SFP increase by more than 50pc.

However, Professor Boyle said a compensatory mechanism of some sort was essential, pointing out that Irish farmers received an average of €8,000-9,000 in direct payments.

Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness called on Minister Smith to outline how he intended to defend the SFP in the CAP negotiations.

IFA president John Bryan said any policy of "robbing Peter to pay Paul" would be very divisive, inequitable and would not be tolerated by Irish farmers.

The Commission is expected to put forward a consultation on the future of the CAP after 2013 by the end of this year.

Irish Independent