Cut in direct payments "flawed"

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, and lead negotiator for his political group on Rural Development, has expressed his regret at the decision of the Parliament to back a "flawed" proposal from the Agriculture Committee on cuts to direct payments to farmers for 2013.

The Parliament's position will top slice only those direct payments over the value of 5000 EUR, thus hitting Scottish farmers with their larger farms disproportionately highly, and according to the NFU costing UK agriculture around 20 million EUR this year. Roughly 80% of EU farmers are exempt from the top slice altogether given their smaller payments.

Although the exact percentage of the levy remains dependent on the outcome of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) negotiations (which will determine the 2014 budget ceilings), it is likely to be in the region of 5% of all direct payments above 5000 EUR.

The "financial discipline" procedure, laid down in EU law and being applied in 2013 for the first time, is necessary as direct payment budget allocations have overshot the financial ceilings determined by Member States in the annual budget. The cuts are also necessary to finance the new "Crisis Reserve" being set up in the new MFF to pay for compensation for agricultural disasters over the 2014-2020 period.

Alyn said:

"This is a poor show today, and it is a shame the UK did not fight harder.

"In fairness we do need to keep this in context, and it is worth remembering the UK government's position remains in favour of deeper cuts to Pillar One payments altogether. However, all that aside, today's vote, in my view, still violates a fundamental principle of fairness: that these sorts of unforeseen burdens should be shared equally across the agricultural community in Europe.

"Instead, four-fifths of European farmers will contribute nothing, leaving the remaining fifth (including a significant proportion of Scottish farmers) to shoulder the burden. We could have done better than this."