MEPs warn Commission against CAP cuts

MEPS have warned against cuts to the Common Agricultural Budget to ensure farmers can provide ‘secure food supplies’ and protect the environment.

European Commission president José Manuel Barroso is expected to propose cuts to the CAP budget, focussed largely on the Pillar Two rural development element, when he unveils new EU budget proposal next week.

But in a vote on a report by German MEP Albert Dess on the Commission’s post-2013 CAP proposals on Thursday, MEPs sent out a strong message about the need to maintain the budget.

After the vote, the Parliament said in a statement that the policy must be ‘adequately funded’ in order give farmers an incentive to use modern, environmentally friendly techniques. This will ensure they provide ‘both secure supplies of high quality food and contribute’ to environmental protection and renewable energy’

In response to the rumours of cuts in aid for rural development, MEPs stressed their support for sufficient funding for this area.

“The vote sends a clear, strong signal to the commissioner [Dacian Cioloş] and I hope the Commission will bear in mind what we have put into the report and incorporate it in the final legislative proposal”, said Mr Dess.

MEPs also made it clear that, while direct payments to farmers should be directly linked to ‘greening measures’, these should be a win, win’ benefiting both farmers and the environment. They suggested these greening measures could cover areas like low carbon emissions and low energy consumption that ‘support farmers who go in for sustainable production methods’.

They said any new greening element of the CAP should not jeopardise existing agri-environment schemes.

However, the Parliament backed Mr Dess’ and the Commission’s calls for a ‘ceiling on direct payments per farmer’, a move that is resisted in the UK, which, because of the large average far  size, would be one of the biggest losers from the move. MEPs said the new capping rules ‘must take the size, employment record and environmental performance of each farm into account’, however.

The report endorsed proposals to reserve direct payments for ‘active farmers’, those ‘who actually use their land for production’ and fr a ‘fairer’ distribution of CAP money among member states.

The Parliament’s view will now be taken into account by the Commission as it prepares its draft legislative package for the late autumn.

The NFU ‘broadly backed’ the Parliament’s report. NFU deputy president Meurig Raymond said: “We told MEPs that we need a simplified policy that does not hamper farm productivity or competitiveness and broadly speaking this report is moving in the right direction.”

He welcomed Parliament’s stance on greening the CAP and said it was vital now to ensure the measures are ‘voluntary and provide a genuine economic benefit to farmers’.

But he warned that the capping payments would have a ‘disproportionate effect on UK farmers and contradicts calls for a modern, efficient farming sector’.

The EU umbrella farm representative body Copa-Cogeca welcomed MEPs’ call for the CAP budget to be maintained.  Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen said: “The European Parliament has called for a strong CAP, which maintains both pillars, with food security remaining the main goal.”

Scottish MEP Alyn Smith, a member of the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, said the vote was ‘powerful indication of the widespread backing in Europe for a strong support system for our farmers’.

He said MEPs had ‘dramatically repudiated the out-of-touch DEFRA/Treasury vision’. 

“It’s time that the UK Government realise they are completely isolated in European negotiations and alter their position accordingly - Scottish farmers can only lose from their stance,” he said.

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