The “climate of fear” for farmers applying for aid under the Common Agricultural Policy should end with the latest tranche of proposed simplification measures, according to the European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan.
The penalty system for most direct payment schemes is the focus of the measures unveiled by Mr Hogan to reflect “reasonable concerns by farmers in case of unintentional mistakes while also reducing frequency of errors and therefore protecting public funds.”
First of all, preliminary checks of aid applications would allow farmers to correct their applications for a period of up to 35 days after the final date of submission without any penalties.
Secondly, the system of administrative penalties for direct payments would be simplified. This reduced level of penalties, when approved, would apply for 2016.
Small over-declarations that are up to 3% of the area declared or two hectares would continue to not be penalised.
Thirdly, a ‘yellow card’ system for first offenders would be introduced. Where the over-declaration is minor (below 10% of the area determined), the administrative penalty would be cut in half.
Farmers having received a yellow card will be registered and will be subject to an on-the-spot control the following year.
Commissioner Hogan said these measures are a fair and proportionate response to the concerns of smaller farmers in particular.
The measures are sending a clear message that the EU’s interest is not to catch farmers out as it were, but to ensure that public money is well spent, he said.
Welcoming the proposals, Irish Farmers Association deputy president Tim O’Leary said they will reduce penalties and unnecessary stress on farmers.
He said Commissioner Hogan’s work on simplification is positive and going in the right direction.
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