Even though the current version of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) only came into effect at the start of this year, it had been in gestation since the middle of 2018.

We can therefore expect that in the corridors of power in Brussels, the brainstorming is under way to prepare its successor, which is likely to come into effect towards the end of the decade.

Parallel to this is the negotiation for further EU expansion and while an application from Ukraine will grab most attention, there are several other Balkan states with ambitions to become part of the EU.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, there has been a degree of urgency added to the application process, but even with this, it is likely to be a decade or more before Ukraine becomes a member - and that assumes the application will be accepted.

Impact on Irish farmers

The value of the CAP to Irish farmers has been in decline in real terms for almost two decades at this point.

It isn’t just monetary value that is in decline, the nature and purpose of the payment has now changed almost beyond all recognition from the original ambition, which was support production of agricultural produce.

It could be suggested that it is now framed to support rural activity that discourages production rather than encourage it.

That is very unlikely to change next time round and there will be a strong lobby to attach payments to environmental schemes, as well as moving to 100% convergence.

The present agriculture commissioner has, for some time, been asking for more money from the EU budget to be redirected towards CAP, but his pleas are falling on deaf ears.

Ukraine impact

Russia invading Ukraine has meant that an already stretched EU budget has been squeezed further. It had already been severely impacted by the COVID-19 response, but the Russian invasion also highlighted the EU deficiency in energy and dependence on Russia.

For a time, food security was in question, but that didn’t materialise. However, finance for Ukraine’s war effort is costing the EU money it doesn’t have and when the EU sits down to put together its next seven-year multi-annual financial framework or budget, they will be starting from a negative position.

Against this backdrop, how big a priority is a meaningful increase for the CAP budget likely to be?

More than money

Further EU enlargement in itself will mean less money for established countries such as Ireland, as payments are redirected to new members to assist the levelling up process. The money picture is bleak, but there is more in the case of Ukraine.

After the surge in sympathy after the Russian invasion, it was granted a temporary suspension of tariffs in trade with the EU. In recent months, we have begun to see a huge push back, particularly in neighbouring countries, as Ukrainian grain was blamed for weakening the market.

This led to border protests, despite the EU making substantial money available to the countries most affected by way of compensation.

This is a likely taste of what will happen on a sustained basis whenever Ukraine becomes an EU member a decade or so from now.

Access to the single market will mean the breadbasket of Europe will have complete access to the EU market for not just grain, but all produce, including pig and poultry meat, which it produces and trades in huge quantities.

This will mean that Ireland will be contributing ever-increasing amounts to the EU budget and Irish farmers will not only have the CAP payments squeezed further, there will be also greater competition in the single market for several commodities.