European farm commissioner Phil Hogan this week sidestepped questions on what he saw as “internal issues” for member states, including the delays in the payment of Scotland’s farm support measures and the UK’s controversial share-out of EU uplift convergence monies.
Speaking to journalists at a meeting in Brussels on Tuesday evening, Hogan said the dispute over the convergence issue – which many in the Scottish farming industry felt had left them short-changed – needed to be settled domestically, and that it wasn’t the Commission’s place to get involved in how these funds were allocated.
Asked whether he thought the way in which the UK had shared out the €230 million (£175m) – granted to the UK solely on the basis of Scotland’s low payments – was fair, he said national envelopes were awarded at member state level and it was up to the UK government to ensure it was distributed fairly.
“It’s up to them to make the decision on the proportion of the package that goes to Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland,” he said.
“I would suggest that you ask [the UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] Liz Truss about that.”
Delivery of support payments was also down to member states, not the Commission, Hogan added – and any delays in payments were down to faults with individual states’ delivery systems, and nothing to do with the amount of time it took the commission to decide on new common agricultural policy (CAP) rules.
“We laid down the regulations and rules for payments and we have money available, but there are a number of countries that haven’t drawn their payments yet: It’s down to their systems,” he said.
“I was sorry some member states were not able to give advanced payments, but they didn’t have their IT systems and land parcel mapping [ready in time]. They need to keep investing in their systems.”
In a far-reaching discussion, the commissioner also said it was member states’ responsibility to implement as soon as possible the recently announced simplification measures aimed at ensuring more proportionate penalties for CAP errors.
The measures, which were announced earlier this month, include a preliminary check which allows farmers to make changes to their applications for up to 35 days after they submit them. A yellow card system will also be introduced for first-time offenders, who will be subject to on-the-spot inspections the following year.
Hogan said the new measures were an attempt to “remove the climate of fear” farmers felt when it came to filling in forms.
“Farmers often feel like they are being caught out by authorities,” he said.
“We are trying to make it easier for them. The vast majority of farmers are honest, and to-date the penalty for offences isn’t proportionate.
“Simplification isn’t about letting farmers off the hook,” he added.
“Authorities will be working to a different culture of trying to help farmers, rather than catch them out.”