100% convergence: ‘As a townie I know it will benefit everyone in rural Ireland’

The decision by MEPs to back another round of proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020 “will benefit everyone in rural Ireland”, independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan has stated.

Earlier today, Tuesday, April 4, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee approved a second batch of proposals which gave the green light to a number of recommendations – including internal convergence [explainer below], aiming for 75% by 2024 and 100% by 2027.

Speaking to AgriLand after the vote on amendments to the so-called Strategic Plans regulation – approved by 27 votes in favour, 17 against and with one abstention – Flanagan described the result as “good news”.

“I’m not happy with the overall package; I think the committee is a little bit deluded if they think they will only get away with 20% plus for greening or for the eco-schemes; but I’d say that will change in plenary. In fact, I would be fairly confident that it will change in plenary.

“Really the big thing for us today is that the committee position now is that we should have 100% internal convergence by the end of this CAP – which is great news,” he said.

Battle

In line with the proposal, member states should ensure that all per-hectare direct payments within their territories reach at least 75% of their average direct subsidies by 2024 and 100% by 2027.

However, from an Irish farming perspective, this proposal is likely to face significant challenges – particularly from the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) as its policy is for “upwards-only convergence”.

An IFA spokesperson previously stated to AgriLand that: “Farms that lost out through reduced payments as a result of convergence in the previous reform cannot afford to lose again. There must be additional CAP budget funding provided for this.”

However, Flanagan describes the IFA’s position as “completely unrealistic“.

It’s a very interesting use of the English language, upwards-only convergence, but really it is completely unrealistic.

“It’s not going to happen, they are just trying to protect ‘the haves’, and to say that there is a way to do it without improving the lot.

“Basically what they want is not going to happen – there is not enough money for that. The CAP budget would want to be significantly bigger for that to happen,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has also pointed out that securing a maximum CAP budget “is where all the focus should be at this time”.

“On the full convergence model ICMSA believes that many committed family farms could lose a significant portion of their payment,” ICMSA president Pat McCormack has stated.

Soup

Although the Irish Government has committed to contributing more money to the EU in a bid to bolster the CAP budget post-Brexit – this will be done by increasing Gross National Income (GNI) contribution to 1.3% resulting in estimated fund increase of €450 million – Flanagan points out that “there is no guarantee” that the increased funding will go to agriculture.

“There is just as much chance that will go to defence and security.

“The EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework is not à la carte – it is a soup. When you’re drinking the soup you can’t choose to take out the potatoes at the end of the day because you don’t like them,” he said.

Also Read: Direct payments: ‘I’m excited by prospects of 100% convergence’

“It’s inevitable that if you go losing money, obviously you’re not going to be happy with it. But, the simple fact is that the money that those people have had for the last few years is money that the people who are now going to gain never had.

“So, at least they had it at some stage; they’ve done better out of it in the long run. It’s tough, but that is the way to go,” he said.

‘Townie’

According to the approved proposals, member states will also be obliged to cap annual direct payments to farmers at the level of €100,000; but they may allow farmers to deduct 50% of agriculture-related salaries, including taxes and social contribution, from the total amount before the reduction.

Plus, at least 5% of national direct payments enveloped should be allocated for complementary redistributive income support to small and medium-sized farmers with a maximum of 65% top-up per hectare.

The adopted text also outlines that states using more than 10% of their direct payments budget for this support scheme, may decide not to apply the capping mechanism at all.

Flanagan says the proposals will “more than likely” move to the next stage – plenary – next September, after the European elections.

“Whether I will be an MEP or not at that stage, who knows. But, hopefully I will be because I’d love the prospect of being there in the plenary when a vote in support of 100% internal convergence was to go through.

“As a townie, it is something I know will benefit everyone in rural Ireland,” concluded Flanagan.

What is internal convergence?

Internal convergence is the level of the re-balancing of the direct payment to farmers within member states.

The European Commission strongly supports the idea of setting an “absolute minimum” for internal convergence to increase the level of payments for the farmers who were the least supported during the last few years.

The commission has stated that the convergence of direct payments is key to ensuring fairer and better targeted direct payments among farmers that support food security and the provision of public goods.