European Parliament Votes For "Strong CAP"

23 June 2011
Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has hailed today's overwhelming support from the full plenary of the European Parliament for the Common Agriculture Policy as a powerful indication of the widespread backing in Europe for a strong support system for our farmers.

One week in advance of the all-important seven-year budget proposals from the European Commission, MEPs voted in favour of a report by Bavarian Christian Democrat Albert Dess which calls for the CAP to have an adequate budget "commensurate with the ambitious objectives to be pursued". The report, which sets out the Parliament's negotiating position ahead of legislative proposals later this year, also demands the retention of direct payments for farmers, a continuation of the successful Less Favoured Area scheme in the second pillar, the maintenance of market management measures such as private storage and intervention, comprehensive simplification of administrative and control systems, the retention of coupled payments in limited cases where there is no alternative to land abandonment, and a new "greening top up" payment in the first pillar to encourage sustainable practices in an administratively simple way.

Smith said:

"We're clearly entering a critical period for food security: the latest FAO/OECD outlook predicts in the next decade higher food prices, higher input costs for farmers and slower growth in yields. That's why a strong, effective CAP is so important to protect in European negotiations: it is the basis of Europe's food security, and with proper reform can help to deliver a whole host of valuable public goods such as anti-climate change measures and rural economic vitality. I'm delighted that my colleagues so powerfully affirmed these principles. In so doing, they dramatically repudiated the out-of-touch DEFRA/Treasury vision. It's time that the UK Government realise they are completely isolated in European negotiations and alter their position accordingly - Scottish farmers can only lose from their stance.

"The Parliament voted for a fairer distribution of CAP funds across member states and regions, which should benefit our farmers given Scotland's currently low share of both Pillar I and Pillar II funds. Limited coupled payments will stay, which I think is important for our remote rural areas where there is no alternative to extensive livestock grazing, and a corresponding per-head payment. The retention of LFA is critical for Scotland and I believe we sent a pretty clear message there - shifting part of it to the first pillar will only confuse and complicate a well-run scheme.  

"I understand that farmers may be apprehensive at the prospect of an additional top up in Pillar I based on extra "green" requirements above cross compliance, but it's clear that this is coming in one form or another, and if we can work with the Commission to design a programme which fits into existing streamlined administrative checks and controls, and which builds on good farming practice, then there will be nothing to fear, and potential additional income streams for farmers to gain.

"Overall, I am very pleased with the shape of the report and now look forward to seeing the Commission's legislative proposals."

Alyn's speech in last night's debate is available below:

Madam President, I would echo group colleagues and other colleagues in adding my own congratulations to our rapporteur. This has not been an easy job for him – or indeed any of us – and the report before us has been much improved through joint working and has much to admire within it.

I particularly like the idea of the continuation of direct payments and the explicit removal of the historical reference values in paragraph 15 and the fairer distribution between Member States, and within Member States in the regions and nations within them, in paragraph 16.

Coming from Scotland, I am particularly glad to see a strong statement in favour of less favoured areas in paragraph 82. I know that farmers in Scotland – and everywhere else too – will be glad to see paragraph 44, which contains an explicit statement that cross-compliance should be risk-based and proportional. Commissioner, perhaps you could mention that paragraph in particular to some of your auditor colleagues.

While there is much to admire in this report, let us be honest with ourselves and with our voters. Unless we have paragraph 1, all of this is pointless – and paragraph 1, where we call for a strong and sustainable CAP with a budget commensurate with the ambitious objectives, will be pointless too. Like other colleagues, I wish to express my own concern, not least at today’s rumours that President Barroso is looking to make swingeing cuts to the budget and Pillar Two in particular.

Commissioner, you are going to need all the allies you can get in these discussions within the Commission and with the Member States. We must have a CAP that is properly funded and properly ambitious for our farmers and our citizens. European agriculture has a great story to tell. Now is not the time to fall out over minutiae.

See video footage of Alyn debating this issue »