Can’t read much into leak of CAP proposals

by Stephen Cadogan

Too much remains to be filled in to be able to predict what it will mean on the ground, said CAP expert Alan Matthews, after the release of leaked copies of an early draft of the European Commission’s proposals for reforming the CAP after 2020.

In the capreform.eu blog, Mr Matthews also pointed out that the commission’s vision will get lost in the legislative bargaining between the council and parliament.

He said:, “Under the trilogue system, the Commission has lost much of its previous power to shape the course of legislation.

“As we saw in both the 2013 reform and the Omnibus Regulation, both the Council and the Parliament will bring forward their own amendments which can change the Commission’s proposal out of all recognition.”

Brussels has been buzzing since the leak of documents, which were not to be launched until November 29, said the professor emeritus of European agricultural policy at Trinity College, Dublin.

The documents sketch out the future direction for the CAP in broad brush-strokes, and in less than 18 pages, and will be followed in the spring by a more detailed impact assessment.

Referring to the section that has generated most headlines in Ireland, Mr Matthews said a reference to focusing direct payments on those who “depend on farming for their living” has been interpreted as an implicit threat to reduce payments to part-time farmers, who take up off-farm employment as a way to supplement their farming income.

But this proposal seems to be inconsistent with an earlier one in the document, that direct payments support should be targeted on smaller farms, said capreform.eu contributor Mr Matthews.

The leaked draft communication also includes a proposal to cap payments as low as €60,000, adjusted for labour intensity; and to give more to smaller farms by making more use of the redistributive payment, which redistributes a set percentage of direct payments to the ‘first’ hectares of all farms.

Mr Matthews says the communication, like all other previous CAP reform proposals, promises to reduce bureaucracy and the administrative burden. “This is unlikely to happen, as can be seen by examining the trajectory of the CAP,” he said.

He explained that in the old CAP, the authorities did not need to know anything about the farmer, because support happened automatically, whenever a farmer sold produce.

But more and more farmer information was needed, first after the MacSharry reform introduced partially-coupled direct payments linked to area and animal numbers, and then after the Fischler reform introduced decoupled payments and cross-compliance.

“Because payments to farmers will be increasingly linked to demonstrating changes in farm practices in future, this need for close monitoring will continue.” said Mr Matthews.

“A structural change in decision-making, such as giving joint responsibility to both the agricultural and environmental bodies in both the Council and Parliament, may be necessary if the ideas in the Commission’s draft Communication are ever to be implemented in an ambitious way,” said Mr Matthews.

He welcomed the absence of higher intervention prices, more coupled payments, or counter-cyclical payments, in the proposals.

He said the ‘big idea’ in the paper is the need for a new delivery model moving away from top-down and one-size-fits-all, with the EU setting basic parameters and giving more responsibility to Member States as to how to achieve EU objectives.

He said the draft Communication rules out national co-responsibility for direct payments, and this is “a missed opportunity to improve the incentive for Member States to make better use of EU monies.”

“Without co-financing, Member States lose interest in spending the money well,” he said.

“By maintaining the status quo, the Commission is guilty of perpetuating a situation where the EU is providing 100% financing to measures such as voluntary coupled support, which has no European value added.

“Indeed, during the recent milk crisis, when Member States were subsidising every second dairy cow in the Union at a time when the Commission was trying to limit production, arguably this expenditure had a negative EU value added. This is no longer defensible.”

Mr Matthews said the urgency of climate action is not communicated in the leaked proposals.

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