Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue has raised several areas of concern in proposed changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at a meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

The council of agriculture ministers is meeting today (Wednesday, May 26) and tomorrow (Thursday, May 27) to try to agree on a final position for what the new CAP will look like after 2023.

Concurrently this week, a ‘trilogue’ is taking place between the council, the European Commission and the European Parliament to finalise proposals.

Minister McConalogue highlighted several issues which he said gave cause for concern, including the ringfencing of Pillar I funds for the new eco-schemes.

The eco-schemes will be a new feature of the next CAP, and will see member states design their own agri-environment schemes – though these will have to be in line with overarching targets set at the EU level.

They are funded through Pillar I, with the council calling for 20% of these funds to be directed towards eco-schemes. However, this is running into a stumbling block in the form of the parliament, which has called for ringfencing 30% of Pillar I for this purpose.

“We support mandatory eco-schemes but believe that member states should have full flexibility to design eco-schemes to suit their own circumstances,” the minister said.

He also reiterated the potential for Pillar I funding to be lost without provisions that would allow member states to become accustomed to administering the schemes without the risk of losing funds.

“The potential for loss of funds is a red line issue for Ireland. We need to protect all of the eco-scheme flexibilities [previously] agreed in the council in order to minimise the risk,” he added.

He noted that the current proposals for a ‘learning period’ for eco-schemes do not rule out the prospect of funds being lost, adding that the proposed plans for any unused funds “are unacceptable”.

The minister said that Ireland continued to favour the 20% ringfencing figure, but that he couldn’t agree to changing that unless issues around targeting and redistribution of payments is first resolved.

Targeting and redistribution is the other main bone of contention in these CAP talks, with internal convergence and payment redistribution schemes causing the headaches.

“Ireland cannot accept a proposed mandatory implementation of payment redistribution schemes, or the setting of a mandatory percentage to be achieved by member states. Recognition must be given for the planned capping and degressivity; and the full impact of internal convergence,” he argued.

The minister noted: “Entitlements-based payments will already see significant redistribution of resources between farmers, with the potential for very disruptive changes in payments in many cases.

“It is therefore vital that we have flexibility to redistribute payments in line with our national circumstances and identified needs, taking full account of the existing redistribution mechanisms, including internal convergence,” Minister McConalogue added.

Another aspect of payment redistribution (aside from convergence) is a scheme to transfer funds to lower-payment recipients, known as the Complementary Redistributive Income Support Scheme (CRISS).

The minister told his EU counterparts: “Member states who choose to apply redistributive schemes [such as CRISS] must be able to design this intervention to take account of their own needs assessment and should not have to follow a prescriptive design.”

The minister is aiming for a target of 75% for internal convergence. Portugal (the current holders of the presidency of the EU) has proposed 85%.

Minister McConalogue said that Ireland “could only consider this if appropriate flexibility on targeting and redistribution is available for member states”.