Alyn Smith MEP has joined agriculture expert Brian Pack in calling for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy to focus less on penalties and more on providing a supportive regime that encourages achievement.
Brian, author of two independent reports for the Scottish Government on the Common Agricultural Policy and reducing red tape for farmers and land managers, last week accepted Alyn's invitation to speak at the European Parliament's hearing on CAP simplification.
The international panel of experts also featured speakers from Germany, Portugal, Poland and Northern Ireland. The hearing formed part of the committee's investigation into ways to simplify the CAP, and will form the basis for a report in the summer, which will influence Commissioner Hogan's CAP review.
Issues raised by Brian and the other speakers included:
- The need for more consistent auditing standards;
- The end of member state "gold-plating" of regulation through additional guidance;
- The case for more flexibility in the interpretation of eligible land for EFA;
- The need for more time to implement the new rules; and
- A call for tolerance in the application of new penalties while the new system is bedding in.
"CAP simplification is work in progress, but we need also to be realistic about the limits of it. You can't polish a turnip, and I'm sad to say my own role in the CAP reform negotiations has convinced me that CAP is simply not fit for purpose.
"Despite our best efforts the new CAP we negotiated in many respects is more complex than before, and there is a strong case for starting with a fresh piece of paper for the next reform rather than more tinkering with a system I think is simply broken.
"That said, CAP support is vital to Scottish agriculture. It provides the support we need to guarantee a safe, secure and nutritious supply of local food produced to high quality and environmental standards.
"However, in the short term there is plenty we can do to reduce red tape for our farmers and land managers, and there is no one better than Brian to explain how this can be done, so I'm delighted that he was able to make it over to share our experiences with a Brussels audience.
"I'm particularly keen on the need to align auditing standards across the different levels of audit in Europe: it is simply not fair to lead farmers to believe that certain practices will protect them from sanctions, only for the goalposts to shift completely when the next set of auditors come along. We need more certainty in the system.
"I look forward to continuing my cooperation with Brian to ensure the key elements of his report are reflected in our committee's submission to Hogan's review."
"Good regulation is not just about the specific rules laid down for farmers to follow, but about the spirit and ethos of the regulatory process, and fostering good relations between controlling bodies at different levels of government and those being controlled. I am concerned that the EU is out of step with modern regulatory approaches, which should be risk and evidence-based, anchored around strong relationships and a commitment to good advice tailored to outcomes.
"I was very pleased to be able to take this message to the European Parliament, and to find like minds both among MEPs and the other invited speakers from different parts of the continent, who are experiencing very similar situations.
"The "fear" culture surrounding CAP administration must be eradicated once and for all. We need to a more supportive administrative regime which encourages achievement, better alignment of auditing standards, greater tolerance for initial errors in implementing a new system, a fairer system of sanctions, and we need to underline that guidance from the Commission is merely guidance and not an additional level of rules."