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Farmers to escape a sudden cut in CAP payments

IRISH farmers will escape a sudden sharp drop in their EU farm payments with changes likely to be phased in over seven years.

A radical overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) looks set to be phased in over a lengthy period to avoid too much financial pain to farmers and the political fallout it would bring.

A senior European policymaker, in Dublin to hear Irish views on the future of the CAP, said he would be pushing for a seven-year period to phase in reforms because it would be too difficult for farmers to switch overnight to a radically new payment system related to the size of their farms instead of to historic levels of food production.

Germany and England had taken seven years to phase in an area-based system and it would be difficult to argue that farmers elsewhere should do it in less time, said Scottish MEP George Lyon, who is drawing up a crucial European Parliament report into the future of the CAP from 2013.

"I don't see member states at the moment conceding to move to a new area unless there's a decent time to phase it in because the financial pain and the political pain that goes with this process is not going to be easy," he said.

With total CAP funding of €1.8bn to Irish farmers set to take a hit under EU moves to redistribute payments more evenly between member states, Mr Lyon said any new payment linked to the size of land holdings would have to take account of hugely differing farming costs across Europe.

"The idea you would have the same payment across Europe for all farmers is not fair in any way, shape or form," he said.

Currently Ireland is one of the big winners under the old CAP system, but incoming EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has called for future payments to be redistributed more fairly from 2013 -- a move which would benefit farmers in his native Romania and other countries who get much less at the moment.


Mr Lyon said introducing a single EU-wide payment rate would be unfair, because it would overcompensate farmers in Eastern Europe whose costs were dramatically lower.

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He hoped to set the agenda for the debate on CAP reform with his report, which is expected to go through the European Parliament by the summer, ahead of EU Commission proposals which will then be the subject of hot political debate. Mr Lyon said he had heard strong calls from Irish farm organisations, TDs and Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith for a cap on EU payments to the wealthiest farmers.

"That's certainly the message I've heard loud and clear today in Ireland," Mr Lyon said.

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