The significance of the minister’s comments on CAP reform was that the EU agricultural commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, was sitting alongside her at as she told delegates that the UK was a diverse country with major differences in its agriculture “from the uplands of Scotland to the arable acres of East Anglia”.
Any reform of the CAP had to be sufficiently flexible to accommodate the variations in the type and intensity of farming undertaken, she said.
She also argued that the present proposals for introducing environmental measures were too constrictive and Europe should realise that the UK was “ahead of the curve” with its agri-environment schemes, designed to involve all farms and not just specialists.
“We want the CAP to recognise these achievements,” she said, adding that “greening” measures had to deliver meaningful environmental benefits and they should not constrain the primary aim of producing food.
Despite these comments – and others from delegates more directly critical of his proposed measures – Ciolos defended them robustly, saying “we will find the appropriate ways to recognise efforts made under your environmental schemes where they genuinely contribute to greening”.
He added the schemes could not be voluntary and denied claims it would affect production. “What is the cost of doing nothing?” he asked. Spelman also brought to his attention that fact that the UK was currently poorly rewarded compared with other member states when it came to indirect support – a point which actually affects Scotland more severely than other parts of the UK.
Time and again, Spelman stated she wanted to work in partnership with UK farmers in getting a new CAP; one that was simpler, one that produced more food and one that was less wrapped up in red tape.
But she said it had to be recognised that the EU CAP budget would be smaller in years to come. This was not to be feared.
“Competitive farming needs open markets,” she said. “It is not subsidies, regulations and trade barriers that will feed an extra billion mouths in less than 13 years time.”