Opinion

It’s been an interesting year for Phil Hogan

Three years into the job and it looks like Phil Hogan is, at last, making a real impression in his role as EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

The last number of weeks has seen the publication of his Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) White Paper and omnibus measures. But it will take time to gauge if the proposals contained within both documents make a real and positive difference for farmers on the ground.

Admittedly, he is constrained by the ever-growing pressure on EU budgets.

This challenge will not be helped by Brexit and the loss of the UK’s annual contribution to Brussels’ coffers.

If Hogan wants to create a legacy for himself within Europe, then he must come up with some radical thinking that constitutes a step-change in the way the CAP is implemented. And, in so doing, he has to give farmers genuine hope for the future.

In the case of the Austrian politician Franz Fischler, his big idea as commissioner back 15 years ago was to decouple agricultural output from the EU support systems.

But this was not really blue sky thinking as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was breathing down the EU’s neck at the time, threatening cataclysmic sanctions if support was not disentangled from farm output.

However, the residual impact of the Fischler reform package is with us today in the shape of the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

We already know that Hogan is committed to keeping the fundamental tenet of the BPS in place.

So where does this leave him, as he seeks to carve out a name for himself within the fabric of the EU story?

His only option, in my opinion, is to push for the development of an EU farming and food chain, which is wholly transparent. Currently, the retailers hold all the cards.

They seem to have total control over the prices they pay primary producers, without having to come clean on the mark-up they enjoy when it comes to selling the vast array of food that reaches their shelves on a daily basis.

In total contrast, the production costs incurred by farmers are made fully known to the world and its auntie courtesy of the figures produced by Teagasc, in tandem with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. And, no doubt, this commitment is replicated in all other EU member states.

This farmer-processor imbalance must be rectified. And, surely, there’s no better person to kick this process off than ‘Our Man In Brussels’, Phil Hogan.

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