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

Independent MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan has said that he is “excited by the prospects” of reaching “full convergence” on direct payments to farmers under the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) post-2020.

Introduced by the 2013 CAP reform, the term ‘convergence’ refers to making the policy fairer between member states.

The policy becomes fairer because the national envelopes for direct payments are progressively adjusted either upwards or downwards to bring them close to the average level for the European Union.

Under the current CAP reform proposals, put forward by EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan, the commission has made a number of recommendations in a bid to ensure a fairer distribution of payments.

These include:
  • The compulsory capping on direct payments, taking into account labour to avoid negative effects on jobs;
  • Member states will also have the option to set a lower cap between €60,000 and €100,000 – between these two figures a system of degressivity will apply;
  • The proceeds of capping will be redistributed within each member state;
  • And, in terms of internal convergence, member states will have to ensure that no payment per hectare will be less than 75% of the average payment for basic income support for that member state.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine previously stated that by 2019 no farmer will receive a payment per hectare (Basic Payment plus Greening payment) greater than €700.

In line with the delivery of the BPS in Ireland in recent years, the national average payment is approximately €260/ha.

Amendments

Speaking in the European Parliament in Brussels, the Midlands-North West representative said of the 5,500 amendments put into the CAP proposal strategic file, there are less than 50 compromise amendments remaining.

It was recently confirmed that the European Parliament Committee on Agriculture will not vote on the CAP reform files until April.

“At this stage we’ve nailed down what these compromise amendments are and on the compromise amendments we have, myself from GUE/NGL – [the Confederal Group of the European United Left / Nordic Green Left which brings together left-wing MEPs in the European Parliament] – we have put in four alternative compromises.

The big one that we have compromise amendments on, and where we will go to battle on April 2, is on full convergence.

Under the commission’s proposal it has been recommended that member states get to 75% convergence of the payments by the end of the next CAP plan – i.e. by 2027.

“I, throughout the negotiations, was trying to convince people that we should go to 100%.

“There seems to be a lot of support in the S&D – [the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats is the political group in the European Parliament of the Party of European Socialists] – for it, but not complete support.

“All these groups aren’t uniform – some of them are representing areas where there is a lot of small farms, others are in areas representing big farms etc. – but there’s a lot of people who would support 100% convergence.

“The greens have signed up to it and we have signed up to it, so we would expect our two groups to religiously vote for 100% convergence,” he said.

‘Pining’

The Roscommon native – who is a member of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and its Committee on Budgetary Control – says the situation is “giving me a bit of hope”.

“In the EPP – [the European Union’s centre-right party, largest and most influential political family consisting of 79 parties – including Fine Gael] – there are many MEPs that are of the opinion that we should go for 100% convergence.

“So, while the main compromise on it is from the EPP and the ECR – [the European Conservatives and Reformists is a Eurosceptic and anti-federalist political group in the parliament] – it is in the balance and potentially 100% convergence will go through.

That is the biggest thing of all. To be quite honest I have pined for it; and I have hoped that this would happen ever since I stood outside the agri committee when I was in the Dail during the last CAP review.

“A man named Éamon Ó’Cuív came up to me and said ‘you should be in that meeting’.

“I had to honestly say to him: ‘I don’t really understand it. I keep hearing that certain farmers are getting money and maybe they shouldn’t be; and other farmers should be getting more money’. I didn’t really understand it,” he said.

“But, bit by bit, it became obvious to me that it would be better for rural Ireland if there was a fairer distribution, so I am excited by the prospects that this vote might go through.

Maybe it won’t go through. But, if it doesn’t, those who get re-elected will get a chance at the full plenary to put in further amendments to bring it to 100%.

“Because, while maybe it might not go through the agriculture committee, there is a feeling in the wider parliament that we should go to 100% convergence,” the MEP claimed.