Hogan stands by 'halfway house' proposals on farm payments convergence

The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan (Niall Carson/PA)
The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan (Niall Carson/PA)

john downing

EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has defended his proposal for 75pc income convergence as part of his post-2020 farm reform plans.

The Commissioner's comments follow a vote by the European Parliament's agriculture committee in favour of all per hectare direct payments moving more rapidly towards 100pc convergence - a change favouring farmers with lower payments on less productive holdings.

The agriculture committee has endorsed a move to have payments reach at least 75pc of their average direct subsidies by 2024 and 100pc by 2027. Mr Hogan told the Farming Independent that he respected the parliament committee's right to make this recommendation.

"But we have made a proposal that is a kind of half-way house and I am standing by that. It will go before the Council of Agriculture Ministers in June and it is a decision for them," Mr Hogan said.

The EU tensions, however, come at a time of flux in the Brussels decision-making apparatus. The policy-guiding the Commission's mandate expires formally next November, but their replacements are likely to be known this summer.

While Commissioner Hogan is tipped to remain as Ireland's Commissioner, it is less likely that he will retain the agriculture portfolio.

At the same time European Parliament elections are due in late May, with polling in Ireland fixed for Friday May 24 next.

Early opinion polls suggest the EPP group, to which Fine Gael is aligned and which supports the Hogan convergence proposal, will lose a lot of seats. The new parliament's attitude to the CAP reform proposals remains to be seen.

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Most Brussels diplomats believe the Hogan reform plan, spanning the years 2020-2026 is unlikely to pass before the mass change of EU personnel.

That means the current policies are likely to be continued on a temporary basis until new agreement, and replacing the €12bn budget hole left by Brexit remains a major crux.

An IFA spokesman repeated his organisation's call for "upward only convergence" and called for a full debate on the impact of changes on farm productivity. "The next CAP cannot result in farmers who are already struggling being made unviable," the IFA spokesman said.

'Ball of money'

Meanwhile, Irish MEP, Marian Harkin, said an industry-wide debate on the convergence of CAP payments was needed in the wake of last week's vote by the agriculture committee. The MEP said discussions on the current CAP reforms should not get side-tracked on overall budgetary issues.

Maximising the "ball of money" from Brussels dominated the CAP discussions of 2012, rather than examining how the funds should be allocated and spent, Ms Harkin recalled. "During the last CAP debate farmers in the west were told they'd be looked after in Pillar II. It didn't happen then, and it won't happen now," the MEP stated.

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