Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has today (Wednesday) and given a "cautious welcome" to the final approval of the four CAP regulations and the transitional rules for 2014, voted through by the full plenary of the European Parliament today with heavy majorities, with the SNP supporting all four dossiers.
Alyn and the Scottish Government secured a number of key concessions during the negotiations for Scottish farming, including the recognition of non-herbaceous pasture as eligible land, a guarantee that new entrants will be able to access entitlements either through a basic grant in 2015 or through the National Reserve, and strict rules on minimum activity requirements which should see the end of slipper farming. The Scottish Government should also be able to grant higher rates of coupled support, at up to 8% of its Pillar I budget, and have additional flexibilities to tailor aspects of the CAP implementation to Scottish needs. Furthermore, the transitional rules for 2014 will allow the Scottish Government to roll over its existing Rural Development programme and finance it from the new budget, allowing time for the construction of the new SRDP for 2015.
While Alyn voted for all four regulations (direct payments, rural development, the common market organisation and horizontal rules i.e. cross compliance) to ensure that the new CAP starts in 2015, giving farmers the certainty to plan ahead, he also viewed it as a missed opportunity. Export refunds will remain, with their damaging impact in agriculture in the developing world. An attempt to relieve the burden on sheep farmers by removing sheep EID rules from cross compliance was blocked by the full plenary of the Parliament. Most of all, the UK Government did not fight Scotland's corner on either coupled support or securing a higher level of the CAP budget. Scotland has one of the lowest levels of support across the EU per hectare in both pillars of the CAP, yet will receive no more money in the next seven years than it did in the previous seven.
The next step in the process in the creation of implementing rules for the CAP through delegated acts: the Commission and the Member States will draft these detailed rules, and once published (early next year) the Parliament will have two months to reject them, if they feel individual rules do not reflect the ordinary legislation accurately.
"I'm pretty sure I can speak on behalf of all of Europe's MEPs as well as farmers when I say, from the heart, thank goodness that's over! It's been three years in the making, but at last we have a CAP to 2020.
"I think the process has shown the worth of Parliament's legislative powers: we have managed to fix a number of problems both from the previous CAP and in the Commission's initial proposal, and I very much hope that the main complaints about the operation of the CAP in Scotland in the past, such as the slipper farmer phenomenon and the lack of support to active new entrants, have been eliminated. Through the greening requirements, we have also acted to meet public concerns about the sustainability of agriculture, but in a flexible way that will suit our conditions.
"However, it's clear that we could have got a lot more out of this had we been an independent Member State. As a result of the UK Government's blinkered desire to end coupled support, we end up with a possible coupled rate which is 5% below that of our rivals, such as France.
"As a result of the UK Government's pressure to cut the CAP budget, we still have one of the lowest shares of CAP payment in Europe for both pillars. Had we been independent, we would have qualified for an uplift in Pillar I from 130 EUR per ha to 196 EUR per ha: an extra 300m EUR a year in 2020. Since we are not, we will get no more than we have just now. 16 Member States got an additional uplift to Pillar II payments, but Scotland got nothing. We can do much better than this, and we will do as an independent Member State with a full voice in European policymaking."