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Alyn slams rural development funds distribution

Alyn Smith, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee, and lead negotiator for his political group for the CAP's Rural Development Regulation, has condemned the UK Government for failing to negotiate a greater share for Scotland of the Rural Development budget for 2014-2020, "in a transparent attempt to preserve an increasingly discredited rebate which doesn't benefit Scotland".

This follows the release of figures from the European Commission showing the proposed breakdown of the 84.723 billion EUR 7 year Rural Development budget among 28 Member States, which leaves the UK with a measly 350m EUR for 2014, falling to 306m EUR by 2020.

Though all Member States face cuts due to the tighter budgetary circumstances of a Europe dealing with austerity, the UK's share of the budget is unprecedentedly low for a country of its size.  Indeed, as in the previous seven years, the UK stands dead last among EU countries at a miserable 20 EUR per hectare in 2014, based on constant 2011 prices and 2011 agricultural area (the last data available), and which compares to an EU average of 72 EUR per hectare, with countries of a similar population and agricultural area to Scotland enjoying a far greater share.  Ireland receives 70 EUR per hectare, Finland 138 EUR per hectare, and the Czech Republic 83 EUR per hectare.

Furthermore, during the budgetary negotiations at the European Council summit in February, the UK missed the chance to negotiate itself a top-up of Rural Development funds: unlike France, who received 1 billion EUR extra, Portugal at 500m EUR and Ireland at 100m EUR for the 7 years.  In total, 11 Member States received sweetheart deals in the MFF - but not the UK, despite it receiving the lowest share of subsidy per hectare throughout the EU.

Rural Development funds from the EU budget must be co-financed at different rates from national budgets.  The Scottish Rural Development Programme supports on-farm environmental protection schemes, investments into rural businesses, and support for forestry and crofting communities, amongst other uses.  The figures have yet to be formally approved by the European Parliament. 

Alyn said:

"It really is galling that the wins we have secured on the objectives of Rural Development funding risk being totally undermined by the fact the UK has secured such a remarkably poor deal.

"We've argued for years that the UK is structurally incapable of negotiating a good deal in Brussels for Scotland's farmers, land managers and rural businesses, and these figures are yet more proof that independence, and the ability to represent your own interests in the EU, really does pay a dividend.

"In its obsession with maintaining the level of the rebate - a rebate which goes straight to Treasury coffers and doesn't benefit Scotland - the UK Government has scandalously allowed itself to be squeezed out of vital support mechanisms for key communities in Scotland.  Just as in the last seven years, the UK will continue to rank dead last in its share of Rural Development support: even in absolute terms it receives less money than much smaller countries such as Greece and Austria.

"What a sorry state of affairs, given that small independent countries like Ireland, Finland and Slovakia have managed to negotiate themselves much better deals, which can lift them up to or above the EU average.

"It's crystal clear to me that the UK holds Scottish communities back in Europe: not just through its eurosceptic attitude and its ability to lose friends and alienate people, but through its complete lack of interest in securing a good deal from the EU budget.  Scotland can do better, but we need independence to get direct representation in these critical negotiations."