Paterson incurs wrath over hard line CAP stance
DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson has set himself on a collision course with the devolved administrations and UK farming unions by spelling out his desire to scrap direct farm payments.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Thursday, Mr Paterson highlighted the significance of 2013 as a year when the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform should be agreed.
While acknowledging ‘we might not get there this time’, he told conference he had a ‘clear end point’ in mind where ‘decisions on which food to produce are left to the market’.
“I believe that taxpayers’ money should be used to support public goods for which there is no market mechanism such as the contribution farming makes to our habitats and wildlife. We must be able to continue to support and develop our agri-environment schemes,” he said.
He stressed that any reforms agreed this year must avoid a repeat of the ‘horrendously complicated’ system implemented in England in 2005 which cost that Government more than €550 million in EU disallowance fines.
But Mr Paterson’s hard line stance on phasing out direct payments as soon as possible and cutting the CAP budget prompted some stark criticism from elsewhere in the UK and within the farming sector.
In his New Year industry message, Wales’ Deputy Minister for Agriculture Alun Davies said his ‘one major disappointment’ of 2012 was ‘the UK Government’s determination to seek very significant cuts to the CAP’.
“I have made very clear to the UK Government that in doing so they are neither representing a Welsh viewpoint nor a perspective that is shared outside of Westminster and Whitehall,” he said.
NFU president Peter Kendall warned Mr Paterson he was in danger of alienating the UK within the EU, claiming that ‘with the possible exception of Sweden’, the UK was alone in its arguments on the CAP budget.
He suggested Mr Paterson was unrealistic to think he could secure this sort of reform and contrasted his stance with that of his predecessors in the negotiations, Caroline Spelman and Jim Paice, who had shown a ‘real desire to work with other member states and seemed to be aware of what was possible’.
“I think he needs to think twice about where the rest of Europe is on CAP. The very large majority of Europe and most countries around the world want to carry on supporting farmers,” Mr Kendall said.
Mr Kendall said the NFU accepted the CAP could not be exempt from cuts ‘in these straitened times’ but the ‘hostile weather events’ of 2012 highlighted how CAP support was an ‘absolute lifeline’ to many farmers.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MEP George Lyon for has called on the UK Government to consider redistributing the UK share of CAP funds, once area payments are in place, to bolster payments to Scottish farmers.