Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has given a “qualified welcome” to the agreement last night between Parliament, Council and Commission on the outstanding issues (related to the Multiannual Financial Framework) on CAP reform.
This follows the agreement last June on other CAP policy issues which will guarantee new entrants access to entitlements, end the phenomenon of “slipper farming”, increase coupled support for Scotland’s hill farming, and ensure that Scotland’s non-grass based pasture lands will be included as eligible.
The agreement will pave the way (following approval in the Agriculture Committee and the Parliament’s plenary session) for the roll-out of the implementing regulations followed by the official start to the new CAP on 1 January 2015. But the agreement was mired in controversy due to Council’s refusal to negotiate on key finance-related issues agreed by Heads of Government in February: a clear violation of the rights of Parliament and democracy in Europe, as protected by the Lisbon Treaty (see below for more information).
“I’m pleased that Scottish farmers now have the certainty on the basic CAP regulations which they need in order to take the necessary business decisions ahead of the roll-out of the new CAP in 2015.
"I’m proud of what we’ve achieved for them over the past two years of negotiations: the new active farmer rules will eliminate the abuse of entitlements by slipper farmers, minimum activity requirements set by the Scottish Government should hopefully end the “naked acre” situation, we’ve ensured that all new entrants without entitlements will be included in the system from 2015, and although coupled support is not up as much as we would have liked, it’s still an improvement, and vitally necessary to keep stock on the hills.
"However, no one can pretend to be pleased over the way these final “negotiations” have gone. Council has simply refused to engage with us on the MFF related issues, banking on running out the clock rather than treating the Parliament as an equal partner.
"This may seem like an irrelevant procedure-based complaint, but it will have significant practical consequences for Scotland’s farmers and land managers. Countries like France, who already have much higher Pillar I payments will now be able to give their farmers a 15% top up from their Rural Development budget – this will give them an even more unfair advantage over our farmers. The excessively high EU financing rates for certain Rural Development measures will see an effective cut to that budget, which is not what we need at a time when concerns about the environment, climate change and rural economic security are at a high.
"I’m also disappointed the agreement didn’t go further on capping: we have simply not addressed popular concerns on this issue, and when everyone is having to tighten their belts it’s only right that the nation’s wealthiest farmers should as well.”
In a tough series of talks, where the Council showed very little willingness to compromise, the original Commission proposal to cap direct payments at 300,000 EUR was replaced by a Council-led agreement under which Member States and regions will only be required to “tax” payments of over 150,000 EUR by 5% (MS and regions can go further if they wish). In addition to the more traditional modulation of funds from Pillar I to Pillar II (set at 15%), Member States will be able to transfer 15% of Pillar II funds to Pillar I – and Member States with low Pillar I allocations can transfer 25%. Moreover, funds transferred to Pillar II will be 100% financed by the EU, requiring no EU co-financing.
The agreement will be voted in the Agriculture Committee on Monday 30th September, and in plenary in November.
Alyn has produced a video explaining the process up to this point, and the importance of CAP, which is available at the following link - http://youtu.be/NmJaphTJMf4. A further written brief is available here.