The ball is firmly in the Scottish Government’s court in any attempts to gain a higher rate of coupled support under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) agreement, it was claimed yesterday.
Speaking on the first day of NFU Scotland’s national AGM, George Eustice, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Farming said that although his department had received a letter requesting such a move, it was up to the Scottish Government to gain clearance with the European Commission before discussions on utilising the UK’s ceiling would start.
And although the UK government had been against the retention of coupled payments, he said the 10 per cent ceiling already offered to Scotland on this front was an example of the regional approach in operation.
Eustice said: “We have said that if Scotland wants to take this support even higher than the level offered, then the Scottish Government has to be prepared to seek permission from the Commission – and to take on the responsibilities which would go with this.”
He said the main responsibility would be the acceptance of any liabilities associated with European Union disallowances which might be incurred. He indicated the risk of such penalties went hand-in-hand with any increase in complexity in working the scheme – and the fact that coupled support ran counter to the spirit of the reforms.
On the thorny topic of the internal convergence carve-up, Eustice repeated the promise to look at the situation during a review which would take place in 2016, claiming that the situation would be clearer after Scotland had moved down the road towards area payments.
Stating that he was not in a position to set out the detailed terms of the review he said that it would be based on the principles of “fairness, respect for differences and accountability”.
A call was also made for farmers to help make the implementation of the new CAP deliverable in Scotland. The Scottish Government’s chief agricultural officer, Drew Sloan, said that there was a need for co-operation to maintain the Scottish Government’s track record for making payments on time.
An important part of this was a new IT system. Sloan said: “While we’re not going to make it compulsory, there will be clear benefits to a good uptake of the integrated electronic system which will allow farmers to make their claims online.”
He also reminded the audience that there would be a link between the degree of complexity and the ease with which new schemes could be delivered.
But earlier NFUS president Nigel Miller made it clear that there was one area of complexity which the union was intent on pushing forward: the use of a “Scottish tunnel”, saying: “With a ‘tunnel’ in place we would have the option of managing things if the changes send the industry into meltdown.”