The EU budget battle, which has intensified in the past few days prior to what is hoped to be a decisive meeting in Brussels at the end of next week, has thrown up a twist which might initially sound like good news for Scottish agriculture.
Buried deep down in his compromise budget paper, which would slice billions out of the budget over the next seven years, council president Herman van Rompuy has suggested that member states should be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to implement a top limit or “cap” on any individual farmer’s payments.
Ever since this policy first appeared in EU Agricultural Commissioner Dacian Ciolos’s initial CAP reform proposals, it has been attacked by Scottish farming leaders and politicians as being detrimental to the larger scale of farming operated in Scotland.
Those opposing the introduction of a top limit have also expressed their fear that even if the current suggested limit which will only affect those receiving payments above €300,000 annually, this ceiling could subsequently be easily reduced.
Despite this opposition, Ciolos has managed to hold on to the capping principle even if it is now altered to €300,000 after labour costs.
Yesterday, in a fierce response to van Rompuy’s suggestion, a spokesman for Ciolos said: “It is illogical and hypocritical to call for significant cuts in direct payments, yet at the same time to remove our proposal for a compulsory limit on the direct payments for the richest, most efficient farms. This is not the ‘better spending’ that we in the European Commission have championed in our proposals.”
For NFU Scotland, Jonnie Hall, head of policy, reiterated the union’s position of remaining fundamentally opposed to the inclusion of capping.
“Scotland, by its nature, has farm business sizes that are significantly larger than average and capping those types of business would be unjustifiable and is likely to drive the undesirable outcome of farm business reconstruction. That is in no one’s interests,” he said.
“Herman van Rompuy’s position that capping could be discretionary for member states would still accept the principle of capping – which we would reject – but may offer the UK and Scottish Governments the opportunity to do the right thing and avoid stifling farm business development.”
And former large scale farmer and current president of both the Scottish Beef Cattle Association and the Scottish National Sheep Association, John Cameron also had reservations about van Rompuy’s suggestion, saying: “I am normally in favour of national discretion in the CAP as it obviously allows for flexibility to suit different conditions.
“The trouble with the ceiling proposal is that it is a “negative” proposal which means that we would be at the mercy of DEFRA and they might well decide to apply the ceiling.”