Provisional deal to overhaul Common Agricultural Policy agreed

Irish farming bodies demand Government secures flexibility on implementation of deal

EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski at a press conference on the Common Agricultural Policy deal  in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski at a press conference on the Common Agricultural Policy deal in Brussels on Friday. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

A deal to overhaul the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) between national governments, the European Parliament and the European Commission was finally thrashed out on Friday after years of delays due to disagreements over climate change and farmer payments.

Announcing the provisional agreement, European Commissioner Frans Timmermans expressed disappointment at what had been achieved in terms of its ability to combat climate change, but said it had been the limit of what was possible to win the support of the European Parliament and national governments.

He predicted the changes would be built on over time. “This is a big step in the right direction,” Mr Timmermans said.

Irish Government sources indicated the deal was the best that could be hoped for, though farming lobbyists were worried it would take money from larger farmers.

The revised CAP runs to €387 billion over seven years until 2027 – almost a third of the EU’s total multi-year budget - with €270 billion going in direct aid to Europe’s farmers. It is worth €10.7 billion to Ireland.

All payments will be tied to minimum environmental rules, such as farmers setting aside at least 4 per cent of arable land for areas where nature can thrive, re-wetting peatland to capture carbon or rotating crops annually to boost soil health. A total of 25 per cent of direct payments have to be diverted to eco-schemes.

This is to comply with legally-binding climate goals, and marks a shift away from supporting industrialised farming to smaller, family-run holdings.

The draft agreement obliges each EU country to redistribute a minimum 10 per cent of payments to smaller farmers – as a consequence many Irish farmers in this category will receive an income boost.

Each country must submit a strategy plan for spending its share of the CAP to the European Commission, which will assess whether it meets legally-binding EU targets. There is considerable flexibility for member states in how funding is used and on what additional supports can be provided.

The deal will not be formally ratified until a meeting of agriculture ministers next week. But EU commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski indicated the deal was positive, as it would make farming subsidies more equitable.

As currently framed, Irish farming bodies – including the Irish Farmers’ Association – warned it threatened the viability of tens of thousands of farmers, and demanded that Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue secure flexibilities on how the restructuring of the CAP is applied in Ireland.

A spokesman for Mr McConalogue welcomed “agreement in principle” on the CAP deal, but underlined final details had to be worked out at the agriculture council meeting in Luxembourg.

It is understood agricultural attachés in Brussels will brief ministers over the weekend on details of the agreement relating to key outstanding issues including big-ticket items such as the introduction of new ecosystems, whereby direct payments will be diverted to those who participate in environmental programmes; on internal convergence which flattens CAP payments for farmers with entitlement values above the national average to farmers below the national average; and on frontloading payments designed to support smaller farmers.

‘Injustice’

The fundamental redirection of EU farming was underlined by Mr Wojciechowski, who commented: “I think that the injustice of what has been happening until now is that agriculture has become a kind of race towards evermore intensive production.

“We observe sectors in livestock farming are already very strongly affected by this race. We see that there is an ever smaller number of farms, of ever more intensive farming. Weaker and smaller producers are being eliminated. And I think the justice of this reform is that we will be giving a chance to those who are dropping out of this race at the moment, we’ll be giving them a chance through eco-schemes,” he added.

“Through ecological farming or organic farming, through the redistributive payment we will try to help them. Because they are extremely important for food security,” Mr Wojciechowski said.