Following the anti-climactic end to an EU trilogue on reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) last week, the European Commissioner for Agriculture has dismissed member states’ fears over farmer uptake of the new eco-schemes.

Although Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski did not specify which member state representatives had raised this specific concern in the trilogue, it was raised by Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue during a meeting of EU agriculture ministers last week.

According to the commissioner, these fears extended into other aspects of the ‘Green Architecture’ of the new CAP.

“People were fearful, but I think that it was exaggerated. We heard that farmers might not be very interested in all this.

“I think that these eco-schemes that were proposed by the commission and that could be complemented with other actions were actually an interesting proposal for our farmers,” Commissioner Wojciechowski argued after last week’s talks.

“I think what we are offering is more than what we were offering before. I think what we are offering now is more interesting for farmers. A lot of farmers would be very interested in this,” he added.

“I was a bit surprised that there were some reservations, some exaggerated fears, on the part of member states… This idea that some part of this funding would not be spent because farmers wouldn’t be interested enough in applying for it,” Commissioner Wojciechowski said.

The eco-schemes will be funded through Pillar I of CAP, with a portion of the direct payment envelope being ringfenced for that purpose. The amount of Pillar I funds that would be set aside for eco-schemes was a major sticking point at last week’s trilogue.

The council of agriculture ministers went into the talks with the target of ringfencing 20% of Pillar I. However, the European Parliament was seeking 30%. Potential compromise options – including 25%, as well as a gradually increasing percentage over the lifetime of the next CAP – did not find common ground last week.

Speaking last week, Minister McConalogue expressed concern that, if farmer uptake on the eco-schemes was not as high as possible, then those Pillar I funds diverted to eco-schemes would go unused.

However, Commissioner Wojciechowski said (not directly responding to any particular member state): “I think there were concerns really more on the administration [of the eco-schemes] than on the part of the farmers. I’m sure the farmers would see these programmes as a great opportunity.

“I don’t think there is any real fear of the funds not being used and the eco-schemes not being taken up,” he added.