Positive moves on farm payments
Last week an agreement was reached between the Parliament, Commission and Council during what is known as the “Trilogue’s” on the agriculture part of the Omnibus proposal. The Omnibus proposal, which could be regarded as a mini midterm review covered all aspects of EU spending.
As shadow for our group my goals from an agricultural perspective was to try to improve the implementation of the young farmers scheme and to broaden the definition of permanent grassland to address the contested issue of land eligibility.
On the young farmer issue positive results have been achieved, young farmers will now get a five-year payment irrespective of when they apply within the five-year period of first taking over the farm, a positive change, as before if they applied in year 3 they were eligible only for a two-year payment. We had pushed for a further broadening of the definition of the young farmer to encompass the “forgotten farmer”, the Commission were not in favour of this fearing budgetary implications.
It is worth noting that the situation of the young farmers is most acute in Ireland given the previous mismanagement of the scheme and the minimal convergence of payments in Ireland which leaves many young farmers trapped with low payments. It is now time for the government to step up to the mark on this, and put in place a package of unused Pillar 11 funds as a special support for these farmers.
On our other goal there are also positive moves, Specifically, article 4 (1) h of the direct payment regulation has been broadened to allow a wider range and variety of vegetation to be classed as permanent grassland. The department must use this flexibility to its max to ensure that all lands remain eligible for payment. It is hoped these new rules will be in place from January 2018.
A more disappointed and instructive aspect was to witness first-hand the cynical manoeuvring of our own government in the trilogue negotiations. In respect of the changes to the “young farmers scheme” both the Commission and the Parliament were fully supportive of the position that, in the interests of fairness, the five-year payment would be retroactive to all farmer who had applied in this programming period. An amendment was proposed from the Council side to change the retroactive elements from “shall” to “may” effectively an opt out for Member States, after some discussion this was adopted. We later established that Ireland alone pushed this amendment via the Council.
Equally disappointed and equally cynical were the attempts made to undermine the effectiveness of the review of the Areas of Natural Constraint (ANC). AMs were introduced by the EPP group (to which Fine Gael belong) to allow Member States to designate additional areas as Areas of Natural Constraint, effectively undermining the new designations based on biophysical criteria.
The Commission were against this from the start arguing that this would undermine the credibility of the review process. During the negotiations the Parliament side offered to withdraw this AM in the context of agreeing an overall package, again up popped the Council insisted this AM be retained, a member State had a particular interest in it, the Commission in this instance refused to budge reiterating the payments on ANC areas must be based on credible criteria and the amendment was withdrawn. Again, we established Ireland was pushing this amendment.
Perhaps the minister could explain why he chose to limit payments to young farmers and why he attempted to undermine the review of the Areas of Natural Constraint. What hidden agenda is he working to?