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Ciolos visit kicks off real horse trading

The CAP reform process has moved from the discussion of generalities to the hard horse trading on specific proposals.

The visit of EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to Dublin last week appeared to signal the end of the shadow boxing phase in the discussion process and the start of real negotiations.

For Ireland there are serious worries and these have been well documented. Greening, the 2014 reference year and the move to a flat-rate calculation for the single farm payment (SFP) have all been highlighted as areas in which Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney and the farming bodies will want serious concessions.

Ahead of his visit, Mr Ciolos insisted that he would listen to the concerns of farmers and officials. He certainly gave very little away during his two days in Dublin, apart from putting the onus on Ireland to come up with possible solutions to the areas of contention within the proposals.

He reiterated time and again the standard lines we have heard before. Greening was the price that had to be paid by farmers for the maintenance of the EU farm budget; the historic basis for the SFP could no longer be justified; and choosing 2014 as the reference year for direct payments would bring in additional agricultural land which has traditionally been excluded from CAP.

The commissioner challenged Ireland to come up with suggestions on the 2014 proposal, while he argued that the SFP calculation proposals contained significant flexibility for member states to tailor payments to their own domestic needs.

Mr Ciolos said it was open to Ireland to use varying criteria to define several regions which could each have different flat-rate payments.

In essence, he was putting the responsibility back on the Irish to come up with a payment mechanism that satisfied Brussels' rules but better suited Ireland's needs than a simple national flat-rate payment.

It is hardly surprising that Mr Coveney rejected this proposal. The reality is that different regional payments could be justified within every second parish in Ireland, such is the variation in land quality and farming enterprise at local level.

It is also accepted that the SFP calculation issue has the potential to become hugely divisive.

On a positive note, Ireland's presidency of the EU during the first half of 2013 is likely to come at a crucial period for the CAP negotiations.

In that sense, it may be to the advantage of Ireland and the Commission to work together.

Indo Farming