EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos visited Northern Ireland for the first time this week and, courtesy of a press conference held at Greenmount College, confirmed that a CAP reform deal could be achieved during the first half of 2013.
His confidence, in this regard, has been buoyed by the growing expectation that EU heads of state will agree a new, long term budget for Europe before the end of this year. In order to further facilitate the introduction of the new CAP measures, the Commissioner further confirmed that his staff in Brussels are already working on the development of draft enacting legislation.
“But the reality is that we may not get all this work done to ensure the complete implementation of the new CAP measures before the end of 2013. This means that 2014 could well be a transition year,” he added.
“It is important that a strong budget is retained for agriculture. The CAP remains the only common policy that operates across Europe as a whole. Farmers must be allowed to produce the food Europe needs while, at the same time, delivering in terms of food quality, improved animal welfare and environmental protection. Many of these activities are undertaken for the public good and farmers must be compensated accordingly.”
The Commissioner continued: “I recognise that Northern Ireland is a region whose farmers are confronting different challenges to those facing producers in the South of Spain. Flexibility must, therefore, be built into the final agreement arrived at. But this concept is already recognised within our current set of proposals. I fully accept, for example, that differing rates of direct payment can be made available within Northern Ireland, depending on farm type and location, courtesy of the new CAP measures.”
Dacian Ciolos went on to point out that the needs of young farmers will be addressed in full courtesy of his reform package.
“There will be specific support measures put in place that will recognise the challanges faced by young farmers,” he further explained.
“And these will be reflected within both Pillar 1 and Pillar 2. For example, farmers will need particular support during the formative years of their newly established businesses. It is, therefore, imperative for the new CAP arrangement to meet this requirement.”
On the issue of defining what actually constitutes an ‘active farmer’ the Commissioner pointed out that a so called negative list approach would be taken.
“In other words we will draw up a series of criteria which will define what doesn’t constitute an active farmer. It would then be up to all applicants to prove that they are eligible to receive direct payments under the new legislation,” he stressed.
“In addition, there will be sufficient flexibility built into this measure, thereby allowing the various regions of the EU to establish their own criteria. However, the definitions arrived at must not be coupled to actual, farm output levels.”
Dacian Ciolos was visiting Northern Ireland as a guest of MEP Jim Nicholson, who also participated in the Greenmount press conference.
“I now firmly believe that a CAP deal will be secured during the first half of 2013,” Mr Nicholson said.
“The European Parliament, which will have the power of co-decision for the first time when it comes to ratifying the final CAP package, has already received 7,000 proposed amendments to the Commission’s initial CAP reform text. However, I am confident that the Parliament’s considered position on the new CAP will be ready in January of next year.”
He continued: “However, if we don’t get a deal sorted out during Ireland’s presidency of the EU, there is a distinct that the CAP will start to fragment.”
In his closing remarks Dacian Ciolos said that flexibility on the part of the European Commission, the European parliament and the Council of Ministers will be required to arrive at final CAP settlement.
“The Commission is up for a deal that will meet the needs of farmers throughout Europe. It is for this reason that I am visiting regions such as Northern Ireland in order to gauge the views of farmers on the ground.”
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