Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member on the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has submitted key amendments to the Capoulas Santos Report on Rural Development (one of the four reports that make up the Common Agricultural Policy) ahead of the critical plenary vote next Wednesday in Strasbourg.
As representative for his group on the Rural Development file, Alyn's amendments seek to ensure greater efficiency in budgetary spending and a greener outlook to rural development programmes. Most importantly, he aims to eliminate completely the controversial "risk management" proposals, an American-style imposition on European rural development programmes which threatens to bust the budget, encourage moral hazard and hand out taxpayers money designed for farming to insurance companies.
Alyn has also submitted amendments to provide financial incentives to invest in High Nature Value and organic farming, through higher support rates in so-called "thematic sub programmes", and also to encourage the pathway of European agricultural policy to avoid harming development in poorer countries. In addition, Alyn has submitted an amendment to the Direct Payments Regulation which will ensure that the Scottish Government, not DEFRA, takes all decisions relating to the implementation of the CAP, such as modulation from Pillar I to Pillar II, or whether to implement to "LFA top up" in Pillar I.
"Pillar II has seen some swingeing cuts to its budget for 2014-2020 in the last few weeks: the final deal on the MFF puts rural development spending down at 85b EUR, from 96b EUR in the last seven years. That's why it's vital that we get maximum value for our scarce resources, and invest where we can do the most to promote environmental protection, climate change mitigation, support for farm businesses and the wider rural economy, and all the other good things that Pillar II provides: schemes such as LFA and agri-environmental programmes are fine examples of this.
"I've been a long critic of the concept of crop insurance and income stabilisation tools - quite apart from the fact that we already have an income stabilisation tool, it's called the Single Farm Payment - copious evidence from the US suggests that such programmes lead to very high overhead and administrative costs, payments end up with the insurance company not the farmer, and that they encourage moral hazard and short term practices among farmers. I don't think it's a model that Europe should copy, and so I'm seeking to delete these funding options from Rural Development.
"Similarly, paying farmers to leave farming and giving them a "retirement allowance" does not seem to me the best use of the money we have, when we should be using it to compensate for natural handicaps and encouraging more sustainable practices i.e. investing in farming, not investing in leaving farming.
"I'm also hopeful of passing an amendment in Direct Payments which will clarify in European law the demarcation of CAP decision-making powers between the UK Government and the Scottish Government, and will ensure the maximum ability of the Scottish Government to take the decisions necessary to deliver a CAP suited to Scottish conditions."