Cap reform proposals about much more than divvying out the money
In the debate over who gets what from the Cap, little light has been shed on the direction of the policy
With about €1.3 billion up for grabs annually in direct support payments from the European Union, it is no surprise that a heated debate is raging between farmers about who gets what from the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) and who might win or lose under the detailed reform proposals of European commissioner Dacian Ciolos.
Visit any mart or gathering of farmers and the chat is about what a neighbour is getting via the “cheque in the post” and whether or not he or she should be getting it.
This potentially explosive situation has been on a slow burner since 2005, but has ignited fully as we approach decision time for the Cap.
By the end of June, a reformed EU agriculture policy is expected to emerge from a tough and complex negotiation process between the European Parliament and the agriculture council of farm ministers.
If farmers are divided, so too are the farm organisations as they struggle to satisfy the conflicting demands of their members – witness the increasing unrest.
The reform proposals are about much more than divvying out the money. MEPs, and I am one of those directly involved in negotiating an agreement in the European Parliament, are lobbied by those who want to stop the process completely and those who cannot wait to see the European Commission proposals implemented fully and immediately.
Ireland is not alone: farmers in France, Italy, Spain, and Portugal all have a similar debate because they rank among the member states which continue to link payments to farmers to a historic level of payment some 10 years ago. That, in turn, was based on what farmers actually produced in the past.
In these [other] countries too, those who have high payments are fearful of losing out, while those on low or no payments are counting the days to when their situation will improve.
The European Commission wants to scrap this system and link payments to land, with all land receiving the same flat rate payment per hectare.
In a major policy development, the European Commission is proposing to link 30 per cent of the money in the Cap budget to the delivery of environmental goods – so called “greening” measures. It is this linking of a significant part of the Cap budget to environmental public goods that has saved the Cap budget from deep cuts.