Phil Hogan: Protecting our farmers’ vital direct payments is a priority for the EU
The potential impact of Brexit on the Irish economy, particularly on the Irish agri-food sector, has been discussed and debated the length and breadth of the country for the last year and a half and it will continue up to and beyond March 29 next, when the UK leaves the European Union.
For Irish farmers, one of the key concerns relates to the impact that Brexit might have on the EU budget and, especially, on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget post-2020.
The European Commission’s ‘Reflection Paper on the Future of EU Finances’, published last June, acknowledged the “gap in EU finances from the United Kingdom’s withdrawal and from the financing needs of new priorities” and concluded that “hard choices will have to be made”.
The commission’s contribution to the Informal Leaders’ Meeting on February 23 noted that “the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the union will mean the loss of a significant contributor to the financing of the union’s policies and programmes”.
In a speech I gave to more than 700 farmers in Kilkenny two weeks ago, I said that “in the absence of more money from member states, there will be a cut to the CAP budget, and there’s no point trying to sugar-coat that fact”.
Remember, the European Commission cannot run a financial deficit. So, against the backdrop of Brexit and the €12bn hole it is blowing in the overall European budget – as well as other priorities such as security, migration and defence that have grown in prominence in recent years – the CAP budget is being cut by less than 5pc. I regard this as a very fair outcome for Irish farmers, particularly given the challenging circumstances in which the budget has been framed.
Moreover, it vindicates the argument I have been making that the CAP needs to be adequately funded to support farmers and the wider agri-food sector, which supports millions of farmers throughout the EU and which is Ireland’s largest indigenous sector. Of course, if member states agree to contribute more money, this cut will be reduced.
Everywhere I go throughout Europe and every time I meet Irish farmers and farm leaders, I am constantly reminded of the vital importance of direct payments as essential income support.