While European politicians and civil servants are working flat-out to produce an already behind-schedule reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, one of the longest serving MEPs, Jim Nicholson, predicted that the next reform after this one would see support payments once again being linked to actual production.
Nicholson, who has been around the Brussels corridors of power for more than two decades and has seen four CAP reform packages, was adamant that, without coupled support for cattle and sheep farmers in less favoured areas, production would not just wither away but would end up with no production at all.
The problem was, he said this week, there was currently no support for extending coupled payments beyond the existing low limits mainly because of a fear of reprisals from the World Trade Organisation whose role is to break down trade barriers and support linked to production.
But he was sure the loss of livestock would have such an effect on the economy of many of the remote areas in Europe that it would become a future priority. He strongly denied the suggestion that such a policy would take the EU back to the 1980s when the big issue was dealing with surpluses.
Nicholson also knocked back a suggestion that the present system for determining the CAP was now far too complex.
He claimed the 7,000 plus amendments to the current proposals only showed how disparate the MEPs were in their approach to agriculture.
One of the areas attracting most amendments were those relating to incorporating environmental objectives.
George Lyon MEP said that there was no way the proposal to take 7 per cent of land out of production would get through the Parliament.
There was widespread opposition to it just as there had been to the Agricultural Commissioner’s view that the greening proposals should be common across the whole of the EU, he said.
“The one size fits all view does not fit with the views of the MEPs. We fundamentally disagree and we want to see a menu of options that are more suited to the member states’ priorities and conditions,” he added.
Lyon emphasised that the agricultural committee would be making no definite decisions until after the European finance ministers agreed the EU budget, and the budget for the CAP.
The one area which is likely to cause most angst in Europe but which has largely remained below the horizon in Scotland is the shift of support to those member states who came in when the EU increased in size to 27 members.
Lyon called it the most contentious issue facing the politicians. There were two issues – how much the shift in support should be and how quickly it should be enacted.
Some amendments facing the parliament, he said, were aimed at making it a level playing field by 2019 and there were others saying there should not be equal payments to all member states till 2050 or 2060.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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