UK – How European funds are distributed and the differences of territorial issues are expected to be major debating points as Europe decides on the reforms to the Common Agricultural Policy, writes Chris Harris from the Oxford Farming Conference.
Member of the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness, who is a member of the European Agriculture Committee, told the conference that concerns over how the reforms will tackle the differences in farming needs in different regions of Europe will be one of the central points in the forthcoming debate on CAP reforms.
She said that the abolition of milk quotas in 2015 has caused concern among some MEPs who fear that milk production could end in some disadvantaged regions as farmers struggle to make ends meet.
Similarly, there is great concern over the way the vulnerable livestock sector will be treated through the withdrawal of funds as a direct support payment and a change to a flat rate per hectare.
Ms McGuinness called for flexibility in implementation of the reforms.
“I expect this issue to be a major one when the Parliament and Council sit down to negotiate the details of the reforms,” she said.
“Territorial balance is important because EU citizens have an expectation of a living countryside managed by farmers.”
She added that keeping farming alive in difficult regions is important for the maintenance of the landscape, for jobs and for keeping a living community in rural areas.
“There are genuine fears about land abandonment, village decline and a lack of young people in remote parts of the EU.”
She said that in the debate over the reforms to the CAP much of the talk will be on direct payments and money issues.
“The money debate has two dimensions – redistribution between member states and within member states.”
Ms McGuinness added: “New member states do not want the status quo and will vote against any reform that does not include them.”
She said there has to be flexibility in payments in member states.
However, she added that the focus on money has blurred the focus on the policy shift towards paying farmers for public goods.
In the greening of the Common Agricultural Policy, Ms McGuiness added that there needed to be more flexibility in this area too.
“There is strong opposition to the three greening measures – crop diversification, permanent pasture and ecological focus area – as being too prescriptive and likely to lead to unwelcome increased bureaucracy on farms.”
She said the quest of a seven per cent ecological focus area had been dubbed set aside but she felt the issue had been poorly explained and poorly understood.
“The importance of soli management and climate change measures are acknowledged but there is no clear agreement on how to integrate these concerns into the policy framework,” she said.
“A blank one size fits all approach favoured by the EU Commission is unacceptable.”
The UK environment secretary Owen Paterson called for greater simplification in the reforms of the CAP.
“We cannot afford another round of unnecessarily complex costly reforms,” he said.
“This would risk undermining the progress that has been made.”
Mr Paterson said he wanted to see reforms that left decisions on “which food to produce left to the market, so that farmers alone decide which crops to grow and which animals to raise according to the demand of the food sector”.
“While this is already happening and farmers have risen to the challenge, with over 90 per cent of EU support payments now decoupled, there’s more to do,” he said.
He called for payments to be made to farmers for the work they do in enhancing the environment and providing public goods for which, he said, there was no market mechanism.
“Farming makes a real contribution to our habitats and wildlife,” Mr Paterson said.
“We must be able to continue to develop our agri-environmental schemes.”
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