European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos confirmed the worst fears of Irish food producers.
Future farm payments will be based on a flat-rate model; 2014 will likely be the key reference year upon which payments are set; and greening will be pan-European with little localised wriggle room.
Positives for farmers, though perhaps not landowners, included the concession that only those who qualified for SFP in 2011 would be eligible for the new model of farm payments; that, plus the freedom (yet to be qualified by the EU) for each member to define their payment regions in terms of geography, economics or some unspecified criteria. This concept of member autonomy in defining ‘regions’ was a rare moments of levity in a dark hour for Irish farming. It happened at the IFA’s AGM in the RDS.
Levity was welcome.
It came after an hour of IFA members haggling with Ciolos, with the commissioner repeating that the EU road blocks to the Irish family farm model could not be bypassed.
Ciolos said the hits being taken by Irish farmers were out of the hands of the Agriculture Commission, and were an incontrovertible by-product of the Council of Europe’s new consumer-focused stance — both in serving up food for EU citizens and staying within competition strictures agreed with the WTO.
The Irish farmers’ autonomy in defining ‘regions’ — to a degree as yet to be spelled out; and let’s repeat this, because the devil will be in the detail — offers scope for Ireland to protect the family farm by localising the payment model, and linking it to either farm size, economic considerations or the obvious geographic reading that the term ‘regions’ suggests.
In response, IFA president John Bryan said: “Thank you, Mr Ciolos, I think we may have to split Ireland up into 128 regions, with a ‘region’ for every 100 or so of our 128,000 farmers.”
That joke brought a welcome laugh from the hundreds of farmers in the RDS concert hall, and from Ciolos.
The commissioner vowed to consult with his expert colleagues in Brussels to come up with some way of supporting Ireland’s laudable farming model, whose variance from the models in other EU states is at the core of Irish resistance to the proposed new CAP.
Unfortunately for Ireland, however, the new CAP seems to be a reasonable fit for most of the others in the EU27. And we only have one vote.
Ciolos said that he had repeatedly promoted the ecological benefits of Ireland’s grass-based cattle system.
He said that Ireland is more dependent on rented or leased land than any other member.
Nonetheless, Ciolos will not be able to budge on the core concerns of Irish farmers.
The 30% greening element of the future payment model is a ‘take it or leave it’ offer, a hard-fought concession to the EU’s agri-ministers as the voices of other non-farming sectors are gaining prominence.
Most people’s analysis after the RDS meeting was that Europe’s farmers could also expect to be sold short in the Mercosur and other global trade talks — that EU manufacturers’ desires to export cars and white goods to the BRIC countries would be traded off against imports into the EU of cheap food and drink.
For Irish interests to gain any ground within these tightening parameters, it will take a truly epic ‘Irish solution to an Irish problem’ — the product of some innovative new thinking, perhaps along the lines of John Bryan’s 128 ‘regions’. No joke.