UK facing 'struggle' to impose CAP reform agenda on EU - Paterson
DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has acknowledged the UK faces an ‘uphill struggle’ to impose its vision of radical Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform on the rest of Europe.
Mr Paterson said he was pursuing ‘radical reform of Europe’s outdated and monolithic agricultural policy’ when he addressed the Conservative Party Conference platform on Tuesday morning. He reiterated his calls for the UK to have greater control over how it implements the new CAP.
He had expanded on these themes in a series of conference fringe meetings on Monday.
He said: “In an ideal world, you leave decisions on food production to the market. What crops you grow and what animals you raise should be left the market. But I believe there is clear justification for taxpayer money to be spent compensating farmers and landowners for the work they put into delivering a public goods for which there is no obvious market mechanism.”
But, in typically candid comments, Mr Paterson admitted he had been taken aback by the lack of support among other member states and the EU Parliament for the UK’s radical stance.
He said he was ‘astonished’ at his first Agriculture Council of EU Ministers meeting in Brussels when ‘country after country spoke out about some weather disaster and called on the Commission for an increase in support payments’. These calls went ‘right against the whole stream of progress’ on CAP reform over the years, he added.
“I was the only one who spoke up having sympathy for the Commissioner saying we should only allow a support payment in an absolute emergency. We have to live with the ups and downs of bad weather and the market,” he said.
He said he was ‘disturbed and worried’ by the CAP reform proposals on the table and described the greening element was ‘unclear’, complex and flawed in proposing the same environmental requirements from the ‘tundra of northern Finland to the olive groves of Greece’.
“I am worried. We have a real battle in Brussels. I have got to say it will be an uphill struggle to get where I want to be on this,” he told a meeting of the Conservative Rural Affairs Group.
He stressed, however, he was determined to play a ‘serious part’ in the reform process and revealed he had already invited his French and German counterparts to the UK to discuss the way forward. But he added that, even if he ‘wins the battle’ with EU Ministers, the task of getting sensible reform out of the EU Parliament, which has made 7,000 amendments to the original CAP proposals, would be even harder.
“I will go there (Brussels) a lot and make it an absolute priority,” he said.
During an NFU fringe meeting, NFU president Peter Kendall challenged Mr Paterson’s vision of reform arguing thatmoving CAP funds from Pillar One direct payments to Pillar Two rural development schemes inevitably meant taking farmland out of production – ‘destocking, de-intensifying and re-wilding’.
“That is not how we will produce more food to feed 70 million who are forecast to be on this island in 13 years’ time,” he said.
Mr Kendall added the NFU would accept Mr Paterson’s efforts to give the UK a greater say in how it implements the new CAP ‘as long as we know it is not the Treasury driving the policy’, as it appears to have done in the past.