MEP says CAP reform ‘on the cards’ by June

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AGREEMENT on the Common Agricultural Policy reform package could still be on the cards by the end of June this year according to a Scottish MEP.

Speaking in advance of this week’s vote on the legislative side of the package by the European Parliament, Alyn Smith said he was reasonably confident that an agreement would be reached on this side.

However the main crunch area was the decision yet to be taken on the overall budget package – but if a sensible agreement could be hammered out by the European Council before the end of March then it was likely that the Irish presidency could see ministers corralled into reaching a decision on the CAP by the end of June.

Addressing a seminar on CAP reform organised jointly by the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, the National Beef Association and the National Sheep Association in Bridge of Allan yesterday, Mr Smith also gave a brief outline of some of the changes which had been included in the parliament’s proposals.

He said that there was likely to be an upper limit set on single farm payments of €300,000, that the introduction of the greening proposals which now took the form of a more sensible menu system was likely to be delayed by a year – and that any changes to the LFA payment system were likely to be parked for a couple of years to see how the new CAP system bedded in.

Also speaking at the meeting was industry stalwart and president of the Scottish Beef Cattle Association, John Cameron, who said that Scottish farming faced a battle on two front as it fought one of the most critical and fundamental set of CAP negotiations ever. He said that industry leaders had to fight their corners not only in the corridors of Brussels but also with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England to make sure that an acceptable outcome was achieved for Scottish farming.

“Since the Scottish administration was devolved we have managed to get policies on the ground that suit our unique requirements – but with the UK Government in charge of negotiations with Brussels over the current reform package, we need to get all the regional flexibility built in to meet the very different requirements we have on this side of the Border.”

And he indicated that it might be as difficult to get a decent deal with the UK as it would with the EU.

He said: “The SBCA recently wrote directly to Prime Minister, David Cameron, stressing that the Government’s help was needed in stabilising and reversing the decline in number of suckler cows and calves – as well as sheep and lambs.”

He said that it was suggested that using coupled payments already available to member states would help to achieve this. However, he said that a letter of reply from the Prime Minister, via Defra minister, David Heath, had been unsupportive and had, instead stated that the Government was committed to continue “the good progress” it had made in reducing such payments.

It continued, saying that the minister was aware of the existing arrangements – making it clear that they had been agreed by a previous administration – but stated that once revised ceilings had been agreed by member states there would “need to be further discussions between the UK Government and the devolved administrations” as to how these would be applied in the future.

“Not only does this make it obvious that we will be facing a fight on two fronts but it gives an indication that the one with the UK Government might be the toughest”, said Mr Cameron.