Farmers battle to keep huge payouts in face of EU shake-up
LUCRATIVE payments to Irish farmers, who receive 10 times more EU money than some of their Eastern European counterparts, are under threat.
New figures obtained by the Irish Independent show that Irish farmers receive nearly 50pc more in payments under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) than the average across Europe.
Our farmers receive €308 per hectare in CAP funding compared to €31 per hectare in Romania. Irish farmers point out that they are faced with significantly higher production and living costs than Romania, for example.
Farmers, across the EU, received an average of €215 per hectare. Only five countries receive more money than Ireland -- Greece, Belgium, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.
But incoming Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos from Romania has vowed to reform the CAP so that all farmers get more equal levels of payment. Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith warned that support for the current system of CAP payments, that favours Irish farmers, was falling as more countries call for equal payments across the EU.
"Let me be very clear about my own position -- I am opposed to an EU-wide flat rate payment and I continue to see significant advantages to the historical model," he said, referring to the Irish system linking payments to subsidies received between 2000 and 2002.
"While this view is supported by some, there is little doubt that the number of member states actively supporting the historical model is falling. It is in this context that I have suggested that we, at least, look carefully at the alternatives, so that we can play a full part in the evolving debate," he said.
Mr Smith was speaking at the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association annual conference on Thursday night where he also announced a new consultation group to advise on the best options for Ireland during the upcoming CAP negotiations.
He said that the credibility of the current system, based on historic payment rates, and giving lower payments to some farmers, was being actively debated in Europe, although most states still supported the continuation of income supports to farmers.
Mr Smith said the future of the Irish agri-food sector was "inextricably linked" with the future of the CAP making this a huge priority issue for him.
"I will be fighting tooth and nail to ensure that the best possible deal is secured for Ireland," he said.
The Irish Farmers Association (IFA) said there was a good reason why Irish farmers get more than those in Eastern Europe. "The compelling reason for the differing level of payments is a different level of costs. We are a high-cost economy, everything is dearer and it costs more to produce here," said IFA President John Bryan.
He said that farmers here stood to lose 20pc of their single farm payments under the proposal to move to an EU-wide flat rate payment. Based on a current average payment of around €10,500, that would mean a loss of over €2,000 each, even though average farm incomes, including these payments, was just €13,000 last year, meaning farmers could not survive without them.