As the Irish Farmers Journal went to print on Wednesday, news was breaking in Brussels that the European Court of Auditors (ECA) had published a report that was critical of the CAP proposals that would cover the period 2020 until 2027.
In brief, their main grievance is that the proposals launched by the Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan a year ago were too like the present CAP and weren’t strong enough on environmental issues and measurement of delivery of these was also not considered to be robust enough by the ECA.
Another area that will be of particular concern to farmers is that they don’t consider direct payments as “the most efficient way of supporting viable income”.
Worrying for farmers
This will send a shiver down the spine of Irish farmers and their colleagues across the EU27.
The UK will, over this period, formulate their own agriculture policy.
On this, Conservative MP and chair of the DEFRA committee in Westminster Neil Parish warned that a future UK agriculture policy would “all go into greening” without a focus on agriculture and food production.
If the ECA report were to become policy, it is clear that direct payments, such a critical part of farm incomes, would be dispensed with and no doubt directed towards environmental supports.
Process waiting on budget
These proposals from the ECA are the first truly critical assessment of Hogan’s proposals for CAP post-2020, apart from the NGO circuit, which would be expected.
While the ECA is in a position to comment, ultimately CAP 2020 will be shaped by the trilogy of Commission, parliament and heads of state.
On this issue, it was more encouraging for farmers that the parliament's agriculture committee this week was in favour of actually increasing the CAP budget by 18% to offset its decline in real value.
While that is welcome, of course parliament does not have money-raising powers, so, ultimately, it doesn’t have the accountability for expenditure.
Hogan pushback expected
While the ECA report will put the Commission on the defensive, they still have plenty to push back against the report with.
They will refer to the extensive consultation process that was undertaken prior to Hogan tabling his communication of what he expected the CAP after 2020 to look like.
His big challenges from a farmer and wider user perspective was to achieve simplification.
This wasn’t referenced by the ECA and by inviting member states to bring forward their own proposals within an EU framework and for EU approval was seen as an attempt to allow local farming conditions across the length and breadth of the EU be reflected.
On the issue of direct payments, there was widespread support in the consultation for funding farmers and he will point to having a basic qualifying environmental standard to access direct payments, plus separating the greening element to a separate application, as evidence that the environment is receiving enhanced priority in the next CAP.
This is really the opening salvo in a debate that will run to the conclusion of CAP discussions sometime next year.
For the environmental lobby, nothing will be sufficient unless it is exclusively an environmental payment, as is being mooted in the UK post-Brexit.