The European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, outlined a number of ways that he plans to simplify the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in Brussels this week.
Addressing MEPs at the European Parliament, Commissioner Hogan spoke about the proposed Omnibus Regulation, which will allow for CAP simplification by 2018.
Under the new legislation, significant changes will be made to the Rural Development Programme, Common Organisation of Markets framework, Direct Payments and the Horizontal framework (the monitoring and evaluation framework).
Commissioner Hogan said he intends to focus on the measures that will have a significant impact on the simplification of the CAP.
“I limited the exercise to remove the bottlenecks with the aim of making the life of farmers, national authorities and paying agencies simpler by reducing the administrative burdens,” he said.
“I am very conscious of the extent of the commitment involved and the proposals will have to be agreed by the co-legislation before the end of 2016 to come into effect in early 2018.”
A sector specific income stabilisation tool
Under the Rural Development Programme, Commissioner Hogan outlined plans to introduce a sector specific income stabilisation tool.
This will give Member States the possibility to design a tool that is tailored to a specific sector, which will make its use more attractive for farmers and administrators.
“This response would lead to a better means of supporting farmers in times of a market crisis and reflects recent difficult experiences in other sectors.
“It is my view that this particular change can better respond to recent crises in certain agricultural markets,” he said.
Access to cheaper loans and finance
Another change the Commissioner spoke about implementing related to the introduction of simpler rules to allow farmers to access loans or other financial instruments.
“These changes are intended to encourage better use of financial instruments in the agricultural sector, which will provide better access to capital for farmers, particularly young farmers for who access to credit is continuing to be an ongoing problem.
The proposals respond directly to concerns raised about the bureaucracy associated with accessing credit and establishing financial instruments.
“The overall aim is to encourage greater lending of public money to increase competitiveness of the farming sector,” he said.
Such a measure was announced in Budget 2017, and although it is still awaiting clearance from Brussels, the vibes coming from Commissioner Hogan’s camp are positive.
The proposed changes to direct payments, he said, will allow Member States to effectively decide whether or not they wish to continue applying the existing definition of active farmer.
If a Member State agrees to this legislation, the system will become considerably less burdensome and will substantially ease the paper work for both farmers and the administrators.
“This was a proposal that generated considerable reaction, as many Member States welcomed the regulations proposed.
“While others expressed concern about the impact that it would have on a level playing field and the possibility of payments going to non-deserving beneficiaries,” he said.
However, he said that anybody receiving the payments in the future will have to meet the definition of a farmer.
Under the proposed changes, which Commissioner Hogan plans to introduce during the final three-year period of the current CAP term, significant changes have also been envisaged for young farmers.
“It is proposed to make it easier to ensure that the 2% financial envelope is fully spent by applying the maximum number of hectares requirement only if the financial envelope is not sufficient to pay all amounts.
This will support young farmers without putting at risk the level of payments for smaller holdings.
Voluntary Coupled Support
Commissioner Hogan also outlined plans to make changes to Single Area Payments (SAP) and Voluntary Coupled Supports to allow for better flexibility and a better use of those funds.
“In relation to voluntary coupled support, the intention is to allow the Commission to provide Member States with the possibility to grant Decoupled Voluntary Support on the basis of a past reference period, for a longer period of time than 12 months.
“The aim of this measure is to allow for farmers to receive the same amount of coupled support without having to maintain the relevant production units,” he said.