A move to flat-rate farm payments is required to make the CAP more credible and transparent for taxpayers, said the EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, who was in Ireland to meet farmers last week.
Mr Ciolos countered criticisms of his CAP reform proposals from farm leaders, insisting that a 'step-by-step' approach would avoid compromising the sector's output.
More than 300 invited representatives from across the agri-sector packed into Ardee Mart on Friday afternoon to hear the Romanian Commissioner outline his vision on the reform of the €55bn CAP budget.
Mr Ciolos, who was in Ireland at the invitation of Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness, assured farmers that, under his reforms, Ireland's envelope of €1.8bn in farm and rural development payments would be maintained, but with a more equitable distribution to recipients.
However, farm leaders argued that the current proposals would be disastrous for Irish farming.
The IFA president, John Bryan, warned that the Commissioner was heading for a major confrontation with Ireland if he didn't alter his "senseless" proposals that were "a direct attack on our [Ireland's] most productive farmers".
The ICSA's general secretary Eddie Punch highlighted how the reforms would take 33pc off a farmer receiving €20,000 on a 125ac farm.
"A farmer with €200,000, whose current entitlements per hectare are at the flat-rate level, would only lose 5pc. Surely it is fundamentally wrong to have the biggest percentage cuts on the ordinary small to medium-scale farmer?" he told the Commissioner.
Mr Ciolos responded that it was not his intention to penalise productive farmers.
"I don't say kill the competitive farmer to give a bonus to others," he told his audience from the auctioneer's podium.
He added that he was ready to work with an approximation model of dealing with the contentious issue of payments' convergence to a flat rate by 2019.
"But there must be a real process of convergence, even if we do not achieve 100pc convergence by the end of the budgetary period," he said.
The Commissioner refused to be drawn on what was the minimum amount of convergence that he wanted to see on payments in Ireland.
"I do have an idea, but it will be part of the discussion," he said.
The report by the EU's Agriculture Committee rapporteur, Luis Santos, suggested a maximum of 20pc variation above or below the average payment within a region, with individual reductions limited to a maximum of 30pc up to 2019.
Mr Ciolos emphasised fairer 'repartition' or re-distribution of CAP funds throughout his address, particularly in relation to young farmers.
"The old system is a condemnation for young farmers. It is not fair to punish them with low level payments," he said.
The Commissioner said he was optimistic that an agreement on the CAP budget could be secured at the November meeting of the heads of state.
But he also admitted that, if there was a serious reduction in the CAP budget, it would be very difficult to do a CAP deal.
"If we don't have the budget, we discuss nothing," he said.
The Commissioner also indicated that he wanted more regulation to deal with inequality in the food chain and volatility in the milk market.
Citing the stability of milk production as a personal concern, Mr Ciolos said that his proposals would allow the system to take account of the economic profile in input prices.
In relation to frustration felt by farmers with unfairness in the food supply chain, the Commissioner said that if "a gentleman's agreement" was not reached between the parties involved soon, the Commission would introduce legislation to address the power of the retailers.
Ms McGuinness warned that the "light-touch" regulation that destroyed the banking sector must not be allowed to do the same in the food sector.
"We cannot stand back and allow a similar potential collapse of the food supply chain," she said.
On the thorny issue of 2014 becoming a new reference year, Mr Ciolos said the requirement for farmers to be in receipt of single farm payments in 2011, combined with the national reserve to cater for exceptional situations, should counter the threat of massive speculation in the land market in the run up to this date.
On greening, the Commissioner was convinced that Irish farmers would have no difficulty complying with any new requirements.
- Darragh McCullough
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