Putting industry’s message across to EU chiefs

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With the European Union heads of state likely to come to an agreement on the budget this coming weekend, farming lobbies in Brussels are holding a major rally tomorrow to highlight their concerns.

In a statement ahead of the meeting, Copa-cogeca – which represent both farming unions and agricultural co-operatives in the 27 member states – pointed out that, with EU farm incomes less than half the level of other occupations, any further cuts in agriculture spending would be “totally unacceptable”.

The body warned: “Without the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy], there would be 27 separate agriculture policies in the 27 member states, which would cost governments far more than the CAP does.”

The lobby group said that, with agricultural spending at less than 1 per cent of public expenditure, the CAP had to be kept at current levels until 2020 to ensure the farming industry would be able to meet growing food demand.

Rebutting the determination of EU agricultural commissioner Dacian Ciolos to paint the next CAP green with strong environmental policies, Copa-cogeca said any budget cut would jeopardise greening services.

“The commission’s proposal would already mean a 10 per cent cut in the CAP budget and the previous proposals by [EU] council president [Herman] Van Rompuy would have resulted in huge cuts in direct payments to farmers of up to 30 per cent in some countries, which is not acceptable.”

The group highlighted the increased levels of volatility in the market place – along with high input costs and market prices barely covering costs – as further evidence of a need to retain the CAP budget at current levels.

Following the hoped-for decision on the EU budget this weekend, NFU Scotland have, possibly for the first time in its 100 year history, managed to attract the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to its annual meeting.

The meeting, to be held next Monday and Tuesday in St Andrews, will also provide the first platform for Owen Paterson MP to pitch his views on the next CAP to a Scottish audience.

Since his surprise appointment last autumn, Paterson has stuck firmly to the line that direct payments should be gradually reduced, with farmers getting rewards from the market place.

This has put him at odds with Scotland’s cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead, who will address the union meeting on Tuesday morning and who has, throughout the CAP negotiations, insisted on the importance of direct support.

The political flavour of the union’s AGM will also be strengthened with speeches from Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, and Michael Moore, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said: “As we celebrate 100 years of representation on behalf of Scottish farmers, it is fitting that we have secured such a strong line up of political speakers to address our AGM.

“The union’s lobbying focus runs across three parliaments – Westminster, Holyrood and Brussels – and it is important that all aspects of that work are reflected in the debate we will generate at St Andrews.

“Reform of the CAP is a perennial issue for NFU Scotland; if we are not shaping the next reform, we are discussing the previous reform or working with government in its implementation. But, given CAP’s importance to Scotland’s farmers, crofters and growers, it is a job NFUS must get right.

“We have a clear list of priorities of what Scotland wants to achieve from a CAP deal, honed from several years of work involving reviews, meetings and consultation. Pending an agreement on European budgets, a CAP deal is likely by the summer and now is the time to ensure politicians are onside to deliver for Scottish farming.”