Cap reform presents myriad difficulties for under-fire Coalition

Government’s best hopes are staked on flexibility it could have on imposing change

TDs representing regions where beef farming is strong fear a backlash from constituents. File photograph: Getty

TDs representing regions where beef farming is strong fear a backlash from constituents. File photograph: Getty

 

The Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) is the European Union’s oldest and largest programme, worth €387 billion, and it will continue to account for one-third of the bloc’s budget spending until 2027.

This week, EU agriculture ministers have gathered in an attempt to reach a compromise agreement between member states, the parliament and European Commission on the shape of the Cap for the next seven years.

Reform talks have been ongoing for three years. This is because of rows about how to shift subsidies away from intensive large farmers and to ensure the Cap contributes to reducing EU carbon emissions 55 per cent by 2030.

The European Parliament has pushed for 30 per cent of payments to farmers to be earmarked for so-called eco-schemes, such as rewetting peatlands to store carbon or organic farming initiatives.

Environmentalists unimpressed

However, environmental groups argue that MEPs have already gutted the green ambitions. Greenpeace coated the parliament entrance with green water, accusing it of “greenwashing”.

The commission is preparing privately for the Cap to miss EU agriculture’s share of the bloc’s climate goals, which would make it more difficult for the union to meet its overall pledges. But national governments insist that the sums set aside for eco-schemes should be lowered still to 20 per cent, with a compromise suggested of 23 per cent of payments from 2023 and 25 per cent from 2025.

Either way, campaigners warn that the precise wording on the definition of eco-schemes, and their enforcement, will decide how successful they are in halting a collapse in bird and bee populations as well as other environmental dangers.

Another contentious issue is how to categorise an “active farmer”. The Cap has long been accused of funnelling taxpayer cash towards large landowners, while squeezing smaller farming families.

Environmentalists have for some time past accused the Cap of encouraging intensive farming, thereby accelerating destruction of habitats and biodiversity loss across the bloc.

Just 20 per cent of Cap recipients receive 80 per cent of payments, according to the commission’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans. He says family farms “get the short end of the stick”.

What is convergence?

There are proposals to place limits on subsidies any farmer can receive, as well as redistribute payments more evenly. For the Republic, the crucial issue covers “convergence”, where payments are to be made equally per hectare.

The Republic is one of the last EU countries to even out payments, which are more generous for certain kinds of land use, delaying a reform that the bloc has been phasing in for almost a decade.

Such a move, the Government knows, will broadly mean reducing payments to large tillage and beef farmers in the south and east to the benefit of farmers in the west and north.

TDs that represent regions where beef farming is strong fear a backlash from constituents, echoing concerns across the EU that policies necessary to tackle climate goals risk sparking French-style Gilet Jaune upheavals. Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue knows that concessions will be hard to secure. A compromise proposal of 85 per cent of payment convergence is on the table, though the Republic would prefer it to fall to 75 per cent.

Ultimately, the Government’s greatest hopes are staked on flexibility it could have on imposing change. This would buy time, thus enabling difficult decisions to be postponed to a later date.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.