Major EU decisions on the future of Ireland’s €1.7bn of annual Common Agriculture Policy payments are expected before the New Year, according to Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney.
Previously, these decisions on the overall EU budget for the next seven years were not expected before March at the earliest.
“Now, however, I believe there is an increased likelihood that it may get done in December,” said the minister, adding that an early agreement would be very positive from the viewpoint of the Irish six-month presidency of the EU which begins on Jan 1.
Earlier decisions are expected due to the urgency of making difficult political negotiations well in advance of elections in the autumn of 2013 in Germany.
As a result, December negotiations will be crucial for Ireland, which gets 85% of its €1.9bn annual EU receipts in the form of CAP payments.
The negotiations will be particularly crucial for farmers because heads of state in the EU budget negotiations will also decide the distribution levels of CAP monies between member states, and the percentage of direct payments that should be assigned to what are now known as greening payments. But their major decision will be the size of the overall EU budget.
And Mr Coveney said Ireland will make a very strong case that if savings are to be targeted in the overall EU budget, the CAP should not be targeted (other main budget areas are structural funds, regional development funds, and research and innovation).
The European Commission has proposed that 2013 CAP payments will remain more or less intact into 2014 and on into 2020. However, the payments are not index linked, so are effectively cut by inflation every year.
“The percentage of the overall EU’s MFF budget that is CAP is actually reducing year on year,” said Mr Coveney. “The idea that on top of that real reduction one would get a further reduction as part of negotiating a smaller budget, is not appropriate. Therefore we will be fighting hard to retain the CAP budget in full.”
He revealed that there was pressure on Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to reduce the CAP budget by 30%.
He achieved the Commission’s agreement to propose that the CAP budget be maintained at the proposed level only the basis of a 30% reduction in direct payments and a 30% top-up payment if farmers met certain “greening” criteria.
As a result, the principle of 7% ecological areas will remain intact in CAP negotiations, predicted Mr Coveney.
“There must be some added value for a greening payment. This cannot be a bluff or pretence.
“He [Commissioner Ciolos] needs to be able to show the consumers who are footing the bill for the EU’s budget that Europe is doing something substantial to protect the environment and maintain biodiversity and that paying farmers to do so is for the common good.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved