Devolved areas detail priorities for Common Agricultural Policy

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The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have today written to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) setting out the priority areas they want the UK to pursue in the forthcoming negotiations on the future shape of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Devolved Ministers have said that while there is a high degree of common ground between the devolved administrations’ views on CAP reform, there are aspects of the emerging UK government position – as articulated by UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Caroline Spelman at the Oxford Farming Conference – which give the three administrations ’cause for serious concern’.

Though all administrations have been working intensively on their respective positions on the future shape of the CAP, they have not yet had the opportunity to agree a UK negotiating position for the forthcoming crucial talks.

To aid that process, and to underline the importance that the European Commission’s CAP proposals have for the future of farming in Scotland, Wales and the north of Ireland, the devolved administrations have drawn up a joint paper (see below), sent today to Ms Spelman, setting out broad areas where they have a common position.

In doing so, they have identified three key priorities for the UK position:

* Securing a fair and proportionate share of the budget
* Flexibility to respond to specific local needs
* Simplification

The devolved Ministers are now seeking detailed Ministerial level discussions with the UK Government on the future of the CAP as soon as possible. Within the next few days they will also be submitting a joint paper to the EU Commission setting out their shared views on the future direction of the CAP.

The Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said:

“As we enter a crucial stage of European negotiations over the future shape of the CAP, it is vital that the devolved administrations make clear their key priorities to the UK Government. This is all the more important given Caroline Spelman’s Oxford speech, which showed that many aspects of the emerging UK Government position give us cause for serious concern.

“I am also concerned that the Defra position is clearly being driven by budget considerations and that the UK Government is paying no attention to the needs of farming in the UK and especially in Scotland. We have done a lot of work in Scotland to look at the future shape of the CAP – not least through Brian Pack’s comprehensive Inquiry – and it is vital, and urgent, that the UK Government engages fully with us and Scotland’s farmers in developing their negotiating position.”

Wales’ Rural Affairs Minister Elin Jones said:

“The future of the CAP is of critical importance to farmers in Wales. It is crucial that the UK government now engages with devolved administrations in order to develop an agreed UK negotiating position so that the different interests across our nations are fairly reflected. Direct Payments remain essential to the viability of the farming industry in Wales and I’m particularly concerned that the UK should not adopt a negotiating position seeking to phase these out. Doing so could spell disaster for the agricultural sector in Wales.”

Stormont Executive Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Michelle Gildernew commented:

“The CAP reform for post 2013 is fundamentally the most important issue facing famers in the north of Ireland in the foreseeable future. The views expressed by Caroline Spelman fail to take into account the importance of agriculture to the fabric of rural communities and to the rural economy particularly in the north of Ireland. I certainly see a clear and on-going requirement for a strong and equitable CAP that is focused on addressing the needs of our agricultural and rural communities.

“I believe the British Government needs to take a much more constructive approach in shaping the direction of future policy and must reflect better the views of the Devolved Administrations in this process. I am currently consulting with local stakeholders on the direction of CAP reform and will be developing a detailed and balanced Departmental position that I will be sharing directly with the Commission in the spring. I intend to ensure that the Commission hears a very clear and constructive message from the north of Ireland”

Full text of the joint submission from the three devolved administrations:

DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATIONS’ JOINT POSITION ON FUTURE OF THE CAP

The UK negotiating position on the future of the CAP must be determined through detailed discussion and agreement with the Devolved Administrations (DAs).

Adequate funding is critically important for the DAs to ensure that the objectives of the CAP can be delivered. Therefore, within the CAP negotiations, the UK must set as a primary goal the securing of a fair and proportionate share of the overall CAP budget.

In particular, the UK must secure a significantly improved share of the rural development (Pillar II) budget, by comparison with the unfairly low allocation for 2007 13. In the absence of modulation, an adequate allocation for the next programming period is the only means by which the UK regions will be able to deliver balanced and meaningful Pillar II programmes, particularly to enhance environmental outcomes and to meet climate change challenges.

There is an ongoing justification for Pillar I Direct Payments, which includes the fact that they underpin the delivery of valuable public goods through active land management on a territory-wide basis. They also help sustain rural economies and enable producers to meet the cost of complying with the higher production standards required by European society. Direct Payments must, therefore, remain in place and the UK should not adopt a negotiating position seeking to phase them out.

However, we accept that Direct Payments should be reformed so as to phase out the historic basis for payments and to define more clearly the links with the delivery of public benefits and with farming activity.

The design of both Pillar I and Pillar II must contain sufficient regional flexibility to enable all parts of the UK to tailor measures to meet their specific needs. These include the needs of the Less Favoured Areas, which contain valuable landscapes and habitats and where farming is characterised by inherent low profitability and, in some areas, the risk of land abandonment. Regional flexibility should be a second key priority for the UK.

The Market Support elements of the CAP must remain sufficiently strong and flexible to provide a genuine market safety net.

However, both the Direct Payments and Market Support (Pillar I) regimes within the CAP must be designed so that farmers’ production decisions are increasingly guided by market signals and consumer demand.

The EU should examine all possible ways of improving the balance and distribution of added value along supply chains, with a view to boosting the economic sustainability of primary production.

The future Rural Development regime must continue to support sustainable economic growth, competitiveness and diversification as well as agri-environment and community projects. The balance between these objectives should be at regional discretion and reflect regional priorities.

The CAP must be simplified in order to keep administrative costs for farmers and Governments to the minimum necessary to deliver the policy objectives. Therefore, all policy proposals must be screened against a simplification template with this in mind.

In particular, the current EU audit system needs to be reformed with the aim of achieving controls on CAP payments which are proportionate and which represent value for money. There must be an explicit recognition of the true costs and benefits of control mechanisms and an acknowledgement that eliminating all error involves disproportionate administrative costs and represents poor value for money. The imposition of flat rate percentage corrections on EU receipts is a crude and punitive mechanism which needs to be replaced with a system whereby disallowance is proportionate and targeted.

Simplification should be a third key priority for the UK.