Call For Proportionate EU Cross Compliance Regime

24 November 2010
Speaking in a debate in the European Parliament late last night, SNP MEP Alyn Smith again pressed the European Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Cioloş, for greater clarity and a proportionate approach to cross-compliance penalties, especially in the case of electronic identification of sheep where the technology remains imperfect.
With a reference to the domestic background in Scotland with farmers complaining regularly of disproportionate and unsympathetic enforcement, Smith also stressed the need for a clear differentiation between accident and fraud, with more understanding from the Commission in the first instance. Smith also dismissed the Commissioner's excuse that the Commission is only following the letter of the EU regulations as drafted by the Parliament, with the fact that the Parliament is about to embark on rewriting those regulations and will need to take a more nuanced approach in future.

Speaking after the debate, Smith said:

"Another day, another late night debate on CAP simplification where we trot out the same problems and are told the same excuses. But at least the Commissioner does appear to be listening, and we do have an opportunity as we reform the CAP to reform the penalties regime also.

"Nobody would argue that public money should not be accounted for, and nobody would argue that we should turn a blind eye to fraud, but the fact is that on the ground farmers are walking away from farming, and walking away from the CAP, because of fears of disproportionate and unsympathetic enforcement. I can see the auditors' point, from their perspective the consequences of accident and fraud are pretty much the same - public money going astray - but in the real world there is a big difference between accident and fraud, and the punishments should be heavier for the latter, and more sympathetic for the former, where presently they are treated more or less the same.

"I'm also tired of hearing some domestic politicians stirring up discontent when they really should know better. The rules are what they are, and the domestic Scottish authorities are under an obligation to make sure they work. Equally, the Commissioner's claim, however correct, that he has to implement the letter of the Regulation only takes us so far towards a solution. If the regulations are too stringent, then we can, as a democratically elected Parliament, rewrite them."

Mr Smith's speech in the debate is below:

I congratulate Mr Ashworth and colleagues for drawing up this initial resolution on simplification of the CAP which has spurred tonight's discussion, and I thank the Commissioner for joining us so late in the evening for this debate.

I'd like to refer the Commissioner to paragraphs 52 and 53 of the resolution on transparency of penalties because we do have a difficulty, across Scotland and the EU as a whole, in how our farmers perceive the transparency of enforcement, especially with regards to cross compliance and I think, going forward, we need a far greater degree of clarity of what is required and expected of the farmers and what the consequences of non-compliance are.

And also going forward, we need a greater degree of understanding and flexibility of the difference between accident and fraud. There is a world of difference between the two, but presently farmers are treated in much the same way in either case. While I know the Commission is obliged to work to the legislation as it has been written and passed, we are here to rewrite that legislation and we are looking forward to doing just that.

And on paragraph 66 in particular, I would be grateful to have a response from the Commissioner as to our suggestion of a three year amnesty for cross compliance penalties for EID. We in Scotland are trying to make the technology work but it is very far from perfect and it would rub an awful lot of salt into an already existing wound for a non-proportionate approach to be taken. I'd like a reassurance from you that you will, indeed, be flexible.