Farming: Unanimity is lacking in EU

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THERE was unanimous support for only one issue yesterday at the EU Agricultural Council yesterday and that was a need to have all the main bones of the next common agricultural policy (CAP) settled by the end of June when the Irish will lose the council presidency.

Thereafter there was no unanimity, with every one of the 27 member states having their own take on the three main issues on the agenda – the definition of active farming, how to get new blood into the farming industry and how best to deal with small scale farmers.

Dacian Ciolos, the EU’s agricultural commissioner, was clear on one point – the need for a European-wide common policy. “We have to decide whether we have a common agricultural policy or not,” he said.

He did not want what he described as an “a la carte” menu from which member states could pick and choose.

This was in contrast to the brief contribution from Owen Paterson, the UK farm minister, who wanted sufficient flexibility for each member state on all three issues.

On defining “active” farming, Paterson said it had to be a voluntary option for member states who would decide the criteria. Thus he dismissed the EU favoured position of having a “negative” list which would not allow “golf clubs and airfields” and other non-agricultural land to benefit from CAP payments.

On young farmers, Paterson wanted the title changed to include all new entrants to farming but the majority of ministers were more inclined to support only the young.

On small farmers, Paterson wanted individual countries to decide but Ciolos was adamant it was crucial to have a Europe-wide definition.