Farm Ireland

Friday 23 March 2018

'No' to SFP change is unrealistic: Lyon

MEP urges Irish to forget status quo and help shape CAP future

Caitriona Murphy

Caitriona Murphy

Irish farmers could lose out in the upcoming CAP negotiations if they continue to argue for the historical single farm payment (SFP) model, a leading member of the European Parliament's influential agriculture committee has warned.

"Fighting for the status quo is a recipe for failure," George Lyon MEP maintained.

"If you don't engage with the process and get involved in the future shape of CAP, you lose the argument," the Scottish politician insisted. "The reality is that it is a question of when, not if, the historical payment will be abolished. It is the wrong game to just say no.

"The more sensible battle to fight would be for member states to decide how long to phase out historical payments and how to re-distribute them," he said.

The MEP's stark advice was given at the Agricultural Science Association (ASA) conference on Friday, where he predicted the CAP post-2013 negotiations would turn out to be one of the most difficult reforms since the original MacSharry reforms of 1992.

Mr Lyon warned of the threat of a triple whammy on the EU budget, leading to a substantial cut in direct payments to Irish farmers.

"Firstly, huge pressure is building up across Europe for budget cuts from finance ministers in cash-strapped member states which need to find savings," he said. "Secondly, there is pressure from those who wish to see the CAP cut and the money directed to other priorities such as climate change and economic recovery through job creation.

"We have already seen that threat emerge in the leaked EU Commission draft budget paper last November.

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"On top of that, we have the demand from new member states for a greater share of the cake when distributing direct payments," he warned.

Irish agriculture could lose out, he warned, because Irish farmers were exposed on the fairness argument.

"You have a high payment, euro per hectare, compared to the new member states," he pointed out. He added that Ireland could also lose out due to our domestic budget situation, if Brussels moved towards national co-financing.

However, IFA president John Bryan argued that the historical model was still the best method of distributing the SFP.

"A move away from the current system of allocation and towards other systems will significantly reduce the overall CAP funding for Ireland," he said. "The current system of allocation reflects the pattern of agricultural production in Ireland, and a move to a flat rate would result in a reduction in agricultural production and a consequent fall in exports and national income."

Mr Bryan insisted that recent events on the world markets had demonstrated that the ongoing volatility of food supply was a critical issue for Europe and added that a fully funded CAP must be maintained post-2013.

The IFA president said France and Germany would not agree to major changes on CAP payments and this would "kill off the flat rate system nice and early". However, Mr Lyon said Ireland "should be very careful about assuming you have allies", before revealing that all French votes on his CAP reform report, presented to the European Parliament in July, were positive.

He also dismissed a Macra proposal to use a rolling reference period. "That won't fly," he said.

Irish Independent