Talks on EU Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) reforms, which will have far-reaching implications for Irish farmers, “are at a very critical juncture”, according to Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
The Minister is in Lisbon for two days of talks with fellow agriculture ministers on “food systems, innovation and management of natural resources”. Reform negotiations between the agriculture council, the European Parliament and European Commission are at a critical stage, so “ministers took the opportunity to informally give their views on the current state of play,” a spokesman for the Department of Agriculture confirmed.
Talks on the reforms failed to reach an agreement in Brussels last month after two days of intensive engagement and commissioner for agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski availed of this week’s meeting to renew efforts to secure a breakthrough.
A revised Cap needed to be in place as soon as possible, he said on Twitter. “Reaching a compromise now is vital to ensure a successful transition to sustainability. Now is the time to reach a compromise on the future Cap and reaching a compromise requires flexibilities on all sides,” he added.
A new Cap was needed “to leave future generations a Europe with a sustainable management of natural resources that allows development of resilient, safe and fair food systems”, Mr Wojciechowski said.
Mr McConalogue “again stressed the need for the reform outcome to provide the maximum possible flexibility for member states to design their Cap strategic plans”, the department spokesman said. “A number of issues remain outstanding, for example in relation to eco-schemes, conditionality, and the targeting and redistribution of payments,” he said.
The Minister urged the Portuguese presidency to ensure the principle of flexibility underpinned its approach to engagement with the other institutions over coming days, he added.
Portugal is attempting to get reforms over the line when the agriculture council meets on June 28th and 29th in the final days of its presidency.
Eco-schemes will be funded through Pillar I of Cap, with a portion of the direct payments to farmers being ringfenced for that purpose. The amount of Pillar I funds to be set aside for eco-schemes was a major sticking point at the talks last month.
The council of agriculture ministers went into the talks with the target of ringfencing 20 per cent of Pillar I funds for new eco-schemes. However, the European Parliament sought 30 per cent. Potential compromise options – by including 25 per cent, combined with a gradually increasing percentage over the lifetime of the next Cap – did not find common ground.
Mr McConalogue expressed concern that, if farmer uptake on the eco-schemes was not as high as possible, then those Pillar I funds diverted to eco-schemes would go unused.
The department has confirmed work is under way after the mandatory introduction of a “front-loading’ measure” demanded by MEPs. The modelling work has not been completed and it is not clear whether Mr McConalogue or stakeholders will have access to the results ahead of the next formal round of Cap talks.
“The issues of convergence, eco-schemes and front-loading remain up for discussion and could have implications in relation to how the funding pot that Ireland will have is distributed at national level,” Mr McConalogue indicated last week.
Farmers fear front-loading would result in a further cut to their current level of payments with some farmers benefitting and others losing out.
An added complication is likely changes to convergence, a process to redistribute and flatten the value of Cap payments for farmers with entitlement values above the national average to farmers below the national average. The IFA has claimed this would undermine commercial farmers to an unacceptable degree.