EU ag man says new CAP will be flexible

Europe’s Agricultural Commissioner says there will be flexibility built into the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) set to come into force after 2013.

Agricultural industry leaders and local MP Michael Moore met with Commissioner Dacian Ciolos in Edinburgh last Thursday.

The commissioner told farmers he expected the EU budget to be set in November which will allow better progress on CAP reform.

He also said a CAP reform deal could be reached in the first half of next year.

And he believed there was scope for coupled payments in Scotland and flexibility in how “greening” measures could be applied.

NFU Scotland president, Borders farmer Nigel Miller said: “Setting the EU budget is crucial to progress on CAP reform and we were reassured to hear how positive Commissioner Ciolos remains that a budget deal will be agreed in November.

“Given that Scotland’s budget share – particularly within Pillar Two – falls well short of the EU average, we would look to the EU Commission to deliver on its convergence priority and ensure Scotland has a larger rural development fund.”

He welcomed the commissioner acknowledging it may be 2015 before the change to single farm payments (SFP) is implemented which would allow farmers and administrations time to adapt.

He continued: “The greening proposals, as they currently stand, are a huge concern for the Scottish sector. However, the commissioner hinted that regional approaches to greening, provided they delivered on the EU’s environmental objectives, might be considered. That opens up the door to Scotland looking at alternatives to issues like the three-crop rule and permanent pasture, that better fit with our systems.

“Included in that was a suggestion that part of the 7 per cent environmental focus area requirement could be delivered collectively by a group of farmers. The commissioner also made reference to using currently ineligible land and features to count towards the 7 per cent figure, limiting this measure’s impact on production. These would certainly offer a more pragmatic route for Scottish farming.

But he warned: “NFU Scotland’s desire to look at a greater level of recoupling payments to production may be more difficult to deliver. The EU limit looks likely to remain at 5 per cent in total for the UK but regionalisation and negotiation with Westminster may afford a higher figure for Scotland.

Concerning the importance of the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) Mr Miller said: “His [the commissioner’s] priority remains the LFASS mapping exercise and, given the flexibility likely to be included in the final agreement, this should raise few problems for Scotland.

“We believe there is genuine merit in the EU allowing LFASS to roll over in its current form to act as an anchor to help stabilise businesses while their SFP undergoes significant change and we hope the door is open to pursue this further in Europe.”

Following the meeting Mr Moore said: “We want to encourage a resilient and sustainable industry where our farmers are able compete effectively at a global level.

“The UK Government is using its experience and considerable clout within the EU to help shape a CAP that delivers for Scottish farmers.”

The Secretary of State for Scotland told TheSouthern: “I will be emphasising the importance of flexibility in the final CAP package so that here in the Borders, the programmes can be implemented in a way that is appropriate to the region’s specific needs.”

He said he has also raised Borders farmers’ concerns about the speed of transition from historic to area-based payments.

Commissioner Ciolos was invited to Scotland by former NFUS president George Lyon MEP who is playing a leading role in CAP reform negotiations.