European ministers locked in talks over CAP

Talks on the next common agricultural policy (CAP) continued last night behind closed doors as the Irish, who hold the presidency of the European Union, pressed for a conclusion.

Earlier, in an open session, Irish farm minister Simon ­Coveney was in a conciliatory mood and listed planned changes to the next CAP but he also warned ministers at the ­Agricultural Council not to “cherry pick” the proposals ­saying “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

The overnight negotiations and the Irish determination to put forward a workable CAP under their presidency, which finishes at the end of June, had produced a number of significant changes to the European Parliament’s original proposals.

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Coveney admitted that the issue of having support linked to production had produced a major split in the member states with some wanting all linked, or coupled, support to be removed and others, such as Italy and France, wanting it to be ­increased.

His proposal, which was ­offered to the council, was that those member states who had not previously had coupled ­support could put up to 7 per cent of their share of the CAP budget into such schemes while those who already had such support could raise their level from the present top limit of 10 per cent up to 12 per cent.

While, the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish all support increased coupling, the UK farm minister, Owen Paterson, has argued vigorously against this linkage.

Speaking before the council yesterday morning, Paterson described these payments as a step back in time and a step away from the market.

He admitted he had already had a “spirited “ discussion on the issue with the French minister but maintained he was going to hold his line.

When questioned on how he would reconcile the opposing views within the UK, Paterson said he would be arguing for “significant regional decision making” to allow devolved parts of the UK to get policies which were suitable for their agricultural industries.

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Government’s rural affairs minister, who is part of the UK delegation, said that he had made the strongest possible representation to the UK government to ensure Scotland had a level playing field across Europe in terms of coupled payments. He added he was continuing to push for other measures needed to successfully implement CAP reform in Scotland including minimum activity levels, greening and support for new entrants.

“We are also continuing to work to secure agreement on the detail relating to new entrants and measures to stop slipper farmers,” he said.