After nine hours yesterday sorting out the European Union agricultural committee’s position on the next Common Agricultural Policy, both Scottish MEPs in the committee, Alyn Smith and George Lyon, said they were “quite satisfied” with the progress made so far.
On the plus side for the politicians was a scheme which will support new entrants into the industry. This would include business start-up aid up to €70,000 per applicant.
There was also support for an amendment which recognises the role of permanent grass in Scotland and a recognition that undertaking certain environmentally beneficial activities should be deemed to be “green by definition”.
Another big plus for Scottish agriculture was a strong definition of “active farming” which should exclude anyone from receiving support if they are not farming.
Smith was pleased that there was support for community ownership and basic services in rural areas, plus 25 per cent of funds ring-fenced for agri-environment schemes and organic farming payments, as well as 5 per cent for Leader programmes.
The committee also supported a move which will see the current Less Favoured Area scheme rolled over for the next two years until the Commission brings forward a legislative proposal for reform at the end of 2014 based on a common set of criteria across the EU.
However, Smith and Lyon both had concerns over an amendment which went through the committee and which would allow for double payments to be made for some aspects of environmental work.
Lyon, who had expressed concern over a French MEP-inspired amendment that would bring back intervention buying, also had his fears confirmed when that went through.
Another amendment which did not please NFU Scotland was one to limit the amount of support any individual could receive. Union policy director Jonnie Hall said this would be to the detriment of Scottish agriculture.
He pointed out that yesterday’s decisions were far from being done deals, with the EU budget still to be set, and from that the amount of cash that will go into the CAP.
Yesterday’s decisions were broadly welcomed by the farmers’ lobby organisation in Europe, Copa-Cogeca, with the president Pekka Pesonen saying the reform was “going in the right direction”.
He qualified that by expressing concern that part of the thrust of the reform seemed to be to cut food production at a time when all other countries were going in the opposite direction.
The agricultural committee was due to reconvene today and its recommendations will go to the plenary session of the parliament to be held in early March.
In the meantime, under the Irish presidency, the agricultural minister will put forward their own views on how the next CAP will be shaped, and this might differ considerably from the positions arrived at yesterday.