CAP: What did McConalogue contribute to his first EU agri ministers’ meeting?

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue is in attendance at his first meeting of the European Agriculture and Fisheries Council in his new portfolio.

The meeting, which brings together the agriculture ministers from the EU’s member states, takes place in Brussels today (Monday, September 21).

One of the biggest agenda items for the day is the discussion of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) proposals that have been published by the presidency of the EU Council.

One of the biggest elements of CAP that was discussed was the “green architecture” of the scheme.

One of the elements of the “green architecture” for the new CAP is conditionality. According to the council, in order to achieve the desired higher environmental performance, an “ambitious conditionality system is necessary”.

The proposal reads: “All farmers should be subject to conditionality. To prevent unnecessary administrative burden, simplifications for small holdings are provided by taking into account the farm size in the setting up of the Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) standards by member states, with an option of a simplified control system and the possibility not to apply administrative penalties in certain cases.”

With regards to this, Minister McConalogue said that Ireland supports a “common baseline conditionality for all”.

“We remain of the view that conditionality should include all statutory management requirements, as set out in the original proposal,” he said.

“Every farmer should implement conditionality. However, we consider that member states may, if they consider it appropriate, choose a simpler but effective system for conditionality controls in relation to small farmers.

“We consider that the current system of penalties applies a proportionate approach for all farmers.

“After hearing the approach, which also requires a definition of eligible hectare that is fit for purpose, we need to engage further on this in order to ensure clarity for member states.

We must allow more space for nature and ensure that we do not incentivise farmers to remove valuable landscape features.

Another key aspect of this green architecture is the introduction of eco-schemes. While eco-schemes are mandatory for member states, each country will design their own schemes.

Member states have outlined that the uptake of eco-schemes is difficult to predict and that a loss of unspent eco-schemes funds should be avoided.

Commenting on this proposal, along with the issue of a new delivery model aimed at moving away from the previous compliance-based systems, McConalogue said:

“Ireland has always supported mandatory eco-schemes, with member states choosing their own appropriate percentage to apply.

“But, as with all new schemes, there will be uncertainty about the level of take up by farmers. Our key concern here is that despite the best efforts of recent discussions on the new delivery model, Ireland risks losing significant funds in the event of a low take-up.

I have to be crystal clear on this point – we cannot accept anything that would expose Ireland in this way. We cannot even begin to consider proposals regarding ring-fenced amounts until this issue is resolved.

In its proposal, the presidency has suggested to re-introduce separate indicators covering the CAP contribution to air quality, water quality and sustainable water use.

McConalogue said that he favours the “amalgamation of the four indicators as it is likely any area under commitment for one of these issues will contribute to all four”.

Finally, with regard to the 2% financial target under CAP to support young farmers, McConalogue said that the council should count the top-up investment grant support to young farmers as part of this 2%