The move by the EU Commission to reduce bureaucracy for farmers is to be welcomed even if it has taken a long time to get there.

The fact that 28,000 Irish farmers, as reported in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal, could have the burden of inspections removed completely will be particularly welcome for those small farmers that it applies to.

The problem with the EU cutting red tape is that it always seems to be on the agenda and no sooner than some progress is made, new schemes and regulations are devised which brings with it a whole new suite of bureaucracy.

For example, a decade ago when Phil Hogan became Commissioner for Agriculture, he made simplification a central plank of his term.

However, whatever progress was made was largely lost with the major changes that came with the current CAP which came into effect in 2023. The switch to emphasis on eco schemes brought its own bureaucracy and farmers found themselves having to chase and apply for what had came to them as part of the old BPS payment.

Farmer protests

It is clear that farmer protests across Europe over recent months have captured the attention of the EU administrators in Brussels. No doubt the upcoming EU Parliament elections in June has also helped to focus minds on farmer problems in a way that hasn’t been the case in recent years.

There is a realisation that the old political order of slightly right and slightly left of centre parties controlling parliament could be under threat for the first time.

There is also a sense that voters have fallen out of favour with Green party politics which were very much in vogue when the last elections were held in 2019. A global pandemic, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and Brexit coming into effect have all combined to stretch Government and EU resources and voters have had to confront a cost of living crisis not experienced since the financial crash - which is now well over a decade ago.

More for less

Farmers being required to do more by way of compliance and activities in return for less money has become a theme of the CAP in recent years.

The reality is that neither the EU nor national governments will be enthusiastic about finding significant new money for farmers in the immediate future. Supporting Ukraine and member states as well as the EU enhancing its defence capability will be demanding on resources and with Brexit relatively fresh in the minds of national governments, there will little inclination to increase EU budget contributions.

In the past this wouldn’t have mattered for Ireland but as we are now a net contributor it is easy to anticipate a political view growing around keeping money in Ireland for domestic expenditure demands rather than sending it to the EU.

Against this background, the least expensive way for the EU to show it is listening to farmers when they have little money to offer, is to cut the red tape and make life a little easier.

The fact that it is the smallest farmers that will benefit also targets the group that are lest likely to be comfortable with the bureaucratic process. This move is to be welcomed as a useful first step on a journey that needs to continue.

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