Mixed reaction from Midlands North-West MEPs to CAP 2020 proposals

The EU’s highly-anticipated White Paper on ‘The Future of Food and Farming’, presented by EU Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan in Brussels, has drawn a mixed reaction from Irish MEPs in the Midlands North-West.

Reacting to the document and its proposals, Irish MEP and member of the EU Agriculture and Rural Affairs (AGRI) Committee Luke Ming Flanagan welcomed the continued funding of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – but believed it to be too vague, noting: “The document, as presented, is aspirational and lacking in detail.”

He pointed out to the commissioner, however, that many of those aspirations – such as: underpinning the family farm; greater convergence of payments; and addressing environmental challenges – could in fact have been achieved under the old CAP, had the will been there.

However, member states – Ireland especially – exploited the flexibilities that were built into the current CAP to pander to vested interests, the MEP said.

“What’s to prevent those member states continuing these practices, given that the new proposal is to give them even greater autonomy?” Flanagan asked.

After 2020, will some farmers continue to be on €700/ha while others are on €160/ha, as is happening at the moment?

The Midlands North-West MEP also questioned the wisdom of the apparent watering down of ‘Greening’ – given that in the broad-ranging consultation process, environmental concerns had figured prominently.

“Look, it’s an important document, but this is just the starting point. What it looks like as a finished product is what’s most important. We have a big couple of years ahead of us in the AGRI committee, especially from an Irish perspective.

“The current imbalance in the payment system in some member states – and we’re one of those member states – has to be finally addressed,” Flanagan stressed.

A simple means to do this would be to take a bottom-up approach – apply the payments on a front-loaded basis, with per-hectare payments reduced as land holding increased.

“I was encouraged by some of what Commissioner Hogan said in response to questions – including my own – on this issue; encouraged also by what he said about the definition of active farmers, where he was adamant that this would include part-time farmers. As I said, however, there is much work to be done to really improve the current CAP.”

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy – who is also a member of the AGRI Committee and from the same constituency as Flanagan – gave his thoughts on the matter as well, saying: “Expectations will no doubt be dashed as Commissioner Hogan announces a lacklustre programme for CAP reform.

“Many options that were laid out in the last CAP reform, but were either not implemented or effective, have been wheeled out again – showing a complete lack of ambition or imagination to fix the current system.

Payment caps

“The leaked version of this communication from October initially mooted a cap on payments of between €60,000 to €100,000. However these caps have completely vanished in the final document, possibly indicating pressure from those with a vested interest in preventing change,” the MEP said.

“Proposals to increase subsidiarity and greater member state responsibility are of course welcome, especially when we see how programmes like Greening have had such an uneven impact on farmers.

“However it remains to be seen how this new system fits into the commission’s plans for simplification.

Moving towards a system of commission-approved strategic plans may just add another layer of bureaucracy between farmers and policies so that it becomes impossible to ensure both accountability and flexibility.

“This paper is also deafeningly quiet on the Brexit funding hole. Farmers will no doubt be wondering how the new proposals fit into the €3 billion CAP funding gap caused by Britain’s impending exit. It is massively disappointing that the commission has refused to address this head on.

“If a cap of even €100,000 was strictly applied, upwards of €7 billion could be saved and the UK’s CAP contribution absorbed. Yet there is no discussion on the CAP budget here at all.

“I welcome assurances that direct payments are to be protected. However, we need to be clearer that the new focus on a results-based CAP does not shift payments even further away from smaller and more disadvantaged farmers,” Carthy concluded.