Battle lines drawn on CAP payments convergence

Fairness: Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesperson Charlie McConalogue
Fairness: Fianna Fáil agriculture spokesperson Charlie McConalogue
Tim Cullinan

Ciaran Moran and Margaret Donnelly

A battle over farm subsidies could dominate farm politics in 2020, with the levelling of payments topping the agenda.

The controversial use of convergence to improve the payments of some farmers by cutting the payments of top earners has split the farming community in the past.

The issue could top the farming agenda in the forthcoming general election, with Fianna Fáil committed to continuing convergence during the ongoing negotiations of the next CAP.

And, in an exclusive interview with the Farming Independent, the president-elect of the IFA, Tim Cullinan, said that the organisation under his presidency would continue to oppose convergence.

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However, he insisted that this was not a case of the IFA supporting larger farmers at the expense of smaller ones.

"I believe farmers on low payments must see their payments increased, but this cannot be at the expense of other farmers," he said.

A new CAP had been scheduled to come into force next year, but uncertainty over its budget and disagreement over new proposals could see its implementation delayed until 2022 or 2023.

Fianna Fáil commits to continue CAP convergence

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Fianna Fáil will continue the convergence of EU direct payments while the CAP reform negotiations take place if the party is returned to government after the next election.

It comes as Minister for Agriculture, Michael Creed, said the convergence process would stop after 2020 while a new CAP is being finalised, a period which is widely expected to take two years.

The draft seven-year CAP programme published by the EU Commission last year requires all member states at a minimum to ensure all farmers reach 75pc of the national average entitlement value by 2026.

The draft transitional regulations recently published by the EU Commission also includes an article which allows member states to continue their convergence programme during the transitional period, but the Government has indicated that it will not do this.

Speaking to the Farming Independent, Fianna Fáil's agriculture spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue, said given that the reference years for current Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) entitlements now date back to 2000-02, there is no reasonable basis for Minister Creed's decision to halt the convergence process.

"A decision will be required alongside agreement of the final budget for the full seven-year CAP programme on the ultimate level of convergence to be achieved, but it is not acceptable for the Government to now bring a halt to the process," he said.

"Progress towards this minimum threshold should continue during the transition years, and it is entirely logical that this should happen.

"Minister Creed's decision to halt the process can only be seen as displaying a political disposition on behalf of the Government that seeks to avoid further convergence if at all possible."

Deputy McConalogue also said that the next CAP must ensure that there is fairness in the manner in which BPS payments are distributed.

Modelling

A modelling exercise recently undertaken by the Department of Agriculture found that the proposal to ensure all farmers reach 75pc of the national average entitlement value by 2026 would see the payments of over 54,000 farmers reduced, with some €7.5m transferred to almost 60,000 farmers on lower payments.

A decision on convergence could dominate domestic discussions over the next CAP ,with the topic likely to be politically sensitve for both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael ahead of a general election.

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