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CAP reforms propose new focus on 'green' farming

Proposed reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy will cap farm subsidies and link payments with environmental measures.

Image: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland

THE EUROPEAN UNION has unveiled plans for a radical reform of its Common Agricultural Policy – proposing to put a new focus on environmentalism in farms.

The proposals – which will see farm spending broadly maintained at around €55bn each year – propose, for the first time, to link payments to farmers with various environmental measures.

The proposals will cap the subsidies that a large farm can receive from Europe – to around €300,000 each – and will end quotas for sugar production.

Under the new environmental regime, 30 per cent of payments to farmers will be linked to meeting environmental targets – such as making sure that tillage farmers grow at least three crops, and leave 7 per cent of their land fallow.

Europe’s agriculture commissioner, Dacian Ciolos of Romania, said the proposals were intended to trigger a “profound reform” of the policy without the need of slashing spending. The CAP accounts for just under half of EU spending each year.

“It means a fundamental revision of the objectives and the instruments to achieve them,” Reuters quoted Ciolos as saying, adding: “The Common Agricultural Policy is what feeds us, it’s the future of more than half of our territory.”

The reforms are proposed to take effect in 2014, when the EU’s next seven-year budget phase kicks in, but the actual extent of any reforms will be dictated by the budget talks between the 27 member states.

Ciolos acknowledged that the progress of the CAP reform could be hampered by larger states looking to cut their overall EU spending, as part of their ways to reduce their own domestic budget deficits.

Ireland’s minister for agriculture Simon Coveney welcomed the publication of the proposals, but said there were aspects of the proposal he was not happy with.

The priority for me is to retain Irish agriculture funding and to ensure that we have a strong and effective CAP which will support our ambitions for the sector… It will take some time for farmers and other interested parties to digest them in full and form a coherent view on them.

The Irish Farmers’ Association has rejected the plans, and called on Coveney and Enda Kenny to turn down the proposed changes.

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“The CAP reforms would have a devastating effect on Irish agriculture because proposed changes to the Single Farm Payment could result in farmers losing up to 50 per cent of their income,” its president John Bryan said.

Bryan argued that the ‘greening’ proposals ran contract to farmers’ ambitions to increase their production, and would “take Irish agriculture in the wrong direction”.

He also said the linkage of payments to environmental tactics would impose “a whole new level of bureaucracy and red tape”.

The Guardian said that the UK was also due to reject many of the proposals, quoting the environment secretary Caroline Spelman who said she expected the plans to be “far too backward-looking”.

The Dáil has set aside two hours tomorrow afternoon to discuss the new proposed reforms.

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Gavan Reilly

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