Ciolos goes green but plans to cap payments attacked

The massive task of reforming the European Union Common Agricultural Policy inched forward yesterday with agricultural commissioner Dacian Ciolos strongly hinting there would be a "green" or environmental tinge to future support payments.

He also confirmed that, with fairness embedded in the new policy, there would be a new distribution of cash to member states. And, he stated that some of the current less favoured area cash would be considered as a direct subsidy payment.

However, he also said that there would need to be a top limit on support for large-scale farmers, which would hit Scotland and the UK very badly. In comparison, he repeatedly mentioned small-scale farmers and their importance to the rural economies of Europe.

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Time and again in delivering his message, largely if not totally based on principles and not on details, Ciolos referred to the as yet undecided size of the CAP budget - an issue which will not be resolved until well into 2011.

Jim McLaren, NFU Scotland president, was in Brussels listening to the commissioner and believed that the main principles being put forward were similar to those from Brian Pack on how Scotland would prefer to see a future CAP. However, he said it was now time to start getting into the detail. "The notion of capping support to farm businesses would hugely disadvantage Scotland," he said. "In addition, hints at ramping up environmental requirements by way of more stringent cross compliance rules would be highly undesirable.

"Another worry is around the less favoured area support, a crucial element of funding delivered to some of Scotland's most vulnerable farms. Its future remains confused by the commission's choice of words, which suggest creating an area-based direct support payment for those facing natural disadvantage as a 'complement' to other rural development funds."

Padraig Walshe, the president of COPA, a Europe-wide grouping of farmers, welcomed the reference to food security and Ciolos's target of a strong CAP but he questioned whether this was possible if the politicians continued to add further costs on to the industry through more and more legislation.

"We face very different challenges today than we did in the past," he said. "Extreme price volatility is on the increase and climate change puts a big question mark over our ability to meet world food demands. Yet the only concrete proposal from the commissioner is to add more costly burdens to the industry."

At the EU agricultural committee, Ciolos came under pressure from Irish MEP Jim Nicholson to put more emphasis on the production of food and less on social and environmental issues.

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith also picked up on the similarities between the commissioner's report and those of Pack.Smith welcomed the importance given to food security with the commissioner's proposals especially as the primary purpose of the CAP should be to maintain food production by focussing direct payments on active farmers producing food.

Taking a swipe at the UK position, Smith said: "This is in outright opposition to the view of some member states, the UK Treasury in particular, who want to see direct payments ended.

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