The proposals for the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) announced by Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan are in general a better fit for the Agricultural Sector than the current CAP rules.
This assessment by Independent MEP Marian Harkin included welcoming the proposal that Member States should interpret EU policy in the context of national conditions instead of the current one size fits all approach.
“This change, if adopted, would mean that the nonsensical calendar farming policy which is totally unsuitable to Irish conditions, can be changed and be more capable of delivering on good farming practices as well as overall EU requirements”, she said.
She also welcomed the proposal that Member States and regions within them should have the space to interpret CAP plans to meet specific local needs. “Irelands regional differences in terms of soils, climate and farm size, need to be reflected in appropriate policies and, hopefully, the new CAP will respond positively to this reality”, she said.
She fully supported the redistribution of farm payments in a targeted way to small and medium sized farms which she said would enhance the retention of the maximum number of family farms in the future. “This is vital for the strengthening of the social and economic fabric of rural Ireland and to avoid the further, and widening, imbalance in favour of the greater Dublin region”, she stated. The emphasis on measures for Areas of Natural Constraints (ANCs) was also warmly welcomed by MEP Harkin.
However, one glaring omission from the proposal was any real commitment on the size of the CAP budget, she stated. “While I understand that there first must be agreement between heads of State on an EU budget, all of these proposals can only be delivered in an adequately resourced CAP budget and this needs to be stated upfront”, she warned.
She welcomed the focus on strengthening the social and economic fabric of rural areas put forward by Commissioner Hogan. “Continued support for farming is the single most important contribution to sustaining rural areas but the maximum use of the LEADER programme for jobs creation needs to be further developed”, she suggested.
However she strongly criticised the proposal by Commissioner Hogan to give politicians and local authorities greater influence on the activities of LEADER. “As Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan, for no good reason, interfered in the way LEADER is operated in Ireland despite the fact that the programme is regarded as the template for delivery of the programme throughout the EU”, she said.
"His proposal, which demeaned the contribution of the voluntary sector to the success of LEADER in Ireland, was now being attempted to be extended into EU policy and should be strongly opposed, she stated. Mr. Hogan’s suggestion that Local Authorities were the most effective administrators of funding for local development should be measured against their failure to spend 40% of funds allocated by the government in 2016 for rural improvement schemes, she stressed.
While welcoming the focus on young farmers and generational renewal, she was particularly pleased to see the Commissioner refer to ‘new entrants’ as well as young farmers. In this context, the proposal speaks of the CAP giving flexibility to Members States to develop tailor made schemes that reflect the specific needs of young famers and crucially by providing an EU wide system of support to the ‘first installation’. This proposal she suggested would help to address the situation of the approximately 2,000, plus, forgotten farmers in Ireland who currently receive little or no EU support despite the fact that they are active farmers.
“The weakness of the position of farmers, in the food chain, while acknowledged by the European Commission, needs to be effectively tackled by a combination of efforts by the different Commission offices, including competition, if the exploitation by the powerful retail giants is to be curtailed”, Marian Harkin said.
“A crucial issue for many farmers is the reduction of regulatory burdens and the proposal is strong in this area. We now need to see more detail as to how in practical terms this can be achieved and the recommendation of simplified cost options as one mechanism is to be welcomed,” she said.
Marian Harkin concluded, “Farmers for their part, in recognition of the 92% of non-farmers who indicated in the European Commission’s recent public consultation their interest in the delivery of increased public goods such as environmental improvements, should be prepared to accept valid concerns of citizens on issues of health and food safety.
"As a final caveat, it is important to say that the devil is in the detail and we now need to see the start of discussions on how we can deliver on many of these proposals but, as a framework within which we can operate, these proposals are by and large going in the right direction”.