The Franco-German axis which has helped set many of the major policies within the European Union in the past 40 years this week announced its support for a flatline Common Agricultural Policy budget.
The move is significant as it comes just before a major meeting of European ministers next week where they will set the budget for the whole of EU spending, including the CAP, for the next seven years.
This meeting – under the title of the multi annual financial framework – will see a battle between those – including the French and Germans – who support the proposal of the European Commission that the CAP budget is frozen at 2013 levels and those who want to see budget cuts.
Leading the charge of the budget cutters is the UK government, which has made it clear it wants to see a working towards the removal of all direct support for farmers.
It has no quibble with support going towards environmental objectives.
The UK budget line is supported by a number of other member states, including the Netherlands, Sweden and the current holders of the EU presidency, Cyprus.
However, this cost-cutting proposal is not supported by the devolved nations within the UK who feel direct support is critical to the survival of farming in the remote areas of the country.
Writing yesterday to new Defra Secretary of State Owen Paterson, NFU of Scotland has outlined the importance of a robust budget deal for Scottish agriculture. The union also stated the flatline CAP budget, as proposed by the European Commission in June 2011, would be the minimum acceptable as far as they were concerned.
Many union members especially livestock producers in the less favoured areas, view direct support as key to their continued production, if not survival.
If there were cuts, the union reckoned there would be a significant threat to Scottish agriculture and all that the industry underpinned.
The union also made it clear to the UK minister that, if there were cuts to the overall budget, the need for fairness and equality within the UK would be paramount.
Specifically, the union referred to Scotland’s support payments which are currently less than half of the UK average. There would need to be some form of internal convergence in support if farming in the hills, uplands and islands was to have a future, it said.
However union boss Nigel Miller said: “In any CAP budget cut scenario, we would look to government to cushion LFA regions from any damaging cuts in support.
“We believe that the direct support delivered to the LFAs should be maintained at their current level to ensure those fragile farming systems that deliver significant community, biodiversity and landscape benefits are sustained.”
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