With months of complex discussions and decisions ahead, the one issue clarified by European Union Agricultural Commissioner Dacian Ciolos on his flying visit to Scotland yesterday was that the reformed Common Agricultural Policy would not be fully completed by the originally planned changeover date of January 2014.
Industry leaders invited to Edinburgh by George Lyon MEP, heard Ciolos explain that, while he hoped most of the policy would be in place by the beginning of 2014, it should be seen as a transitional year with the new Single Farm Payments not coming in until 2015.
Responding to a comment from Brian Pack, the author of the preferred Scottish CAP solution, to the effect that it would be absolutely impossible for civil servants to put the new CAP in place in 15 months, Ciolos admitted: “It will be difficult to have all the implementing regulations in place for January 2014 so it will be a transitional year. We are looking at this to avoid complexities and give time for administrations in member states to work out issues.”
Pack also worried the tight timescale would see farmers unsure of what was expected of them, with the worry that, some time in the future, EU auditors would bear down on them and impose penalties. Ciolos responded by saying he had set up a task force who would go out to member states to ensure best practice was being followed and this would happen before the auditors came on the scene.
On another issue concerning the Scottish red meat industry, Ian Anderson, chief executive of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers, pointed out that red meat production in Europe now was less than 20 years ago. He added the Scottish beef herd had also contracted from half a million cows a decade ago to little over 450,000 now and asked the commissioner if there should not be a bigger linkage between support and production.
Ciolos responded by saying the UK did not use up its current allowance of coupled payments of 5 per cent, with England well below that, adding: “If England does not use it, Scotland and Wales should negotiate with them.” Lyon said this was an issue the devolved nations should be prioritising in their talks on a UK basis.
For many, the most vexed issue in the current proposals is the so called greening policies, one requiring 7 per cent of land taken out of production and put into environmental focus areas. In a move not previously publicised, Ciolos said that this did not need to be on a farm basis but could be operated on a group or parish area, thus giving more flexibility in implementation.
The commissioner also made reference to using currently ineligible land and features to count towards the 7 per cent figure, so limiting this measure’s impact on production. NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said these would certainly offer a more pragmatic route.
Ciolos rejected having a menu of environmental options from which member states could chose. He wanted equality in implementation which he saw as rewarding the taxpaying public for the financial support they put into the CAP.
He was bullish on the CAP budget being left untouched by finance ministers when they meet later this year to set the cash for the whole of the EU. “We will provide them with a strong CAP and it would be wrong for there to be a weak budget,” he said.
Miller said he was reassured by how positive the commissioner was on setting the budget as this was crucial to progress.
“Given that Scotland’s budget share falls well short of the EU average, we would look to the EU Commission to deliver on its convergence priority and, working with Westminster, look to ensure Scotland has a larger rural development fund.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West