ELS should be basis of CAP greening in England - Paterson

DEFRA Secretary Owen Paterson is proposing that the Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) Scheme should form the basis of greening in England under the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Under Mr Paterson’s plan, ELS -or a similar version of it - would be transferred from the Pillar Two rural development side of the CAP into Pillar One, covering direct payments.

Farmers who participate in the scheme would not need to do anything else to qualify for the 30 per cent greening element of the new Basic Payment, which is likely to come into place in 2015, according to Mr Paterson.

While this would enable farmers to comply with CAP greening, it means they would no longer benefit from the rural development payments they receive now for scheme participation.

Mr Paterson announced his intentions at a meeting of EU Environment Ministers who were discussing CAP greening. In particular, they were debating the best way to give member states flexibility in implementing the measures while ensuring ‘equivalence’ of standards across the EU.

Mr Paterson began by stating he believed the best approach was to transfer the whole of greening into Pillar Two. But he said that, if greening has to be linked to direct payments, it was essential to give nations – and regions within – flexibility to implement measures that suit them.

He said the English approach of moving ELS into Pillar One, which is also supported by other member states including the Scandinavian nations and Germany, would achieve the goal of making greening simple and easy to administer.

He suggested joining ELS would be the only way for farmers in England to qualify for the 30 per cent greening payment under his preferred option. This would mean the original three ‘greening’ measures proposed by the European Commission - Ecological Focus Areas, retention of permanent pasture and crop diversification - would not apply in Englabnd.

Mr Paterson is also unwilling to give farmers a wider menu of option to choose from as he fears this could make the system complex and difficult to administer.

He told Farmers Guardian: “I am very keen to keep it simple. We have good workable schemes which we know how to deliver efficiently which farmers understand and I would like to stick to them.”

He said the UK Government was not prepared to sign up to anything that was not ‘simple and clear’ from the start and risk flawed implementation and massive EU fines, as happened with the last reforms.

Mr Paterson added: “I am very happy to have different measures across the EU because what would be relevant to dairy country in the UK would be irrelevant to boiling hot olive grove country in southern Spain. It’s the equivalence of the result I am interested in not the mechanics of how you achieve it.”

He said he would be ‘happy to shift some money’ from Pillar One into Pillar Two in England but pointed out that the need to do this would be reduced in England if the biggest agri-environment scheme, ELS, was linked to greening in Pillar One.

The key CAP reform decision decision makers, the EU Parliament and the Council of Ministers, plus the European Commission, all appear to be in agreement that farmers who participate in agri-environment schemes can be considered ‘green by definition’ in the reformed CAP.

Mr Paterson stressed that Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should be free to implement their own measures to qualify for the greening payment.

He also warned that EU Ministers were still some way from agreeing on a CAP reform package after talks on the EU budget collapsed last week.

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