EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan has proposed a number of measures designed to end the “climate of fear” for farmers when applying for aid under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In the simplification package he unveiled in Strasbourg on Monday, preliminary checks of aid applications would allow farmers to fix unintentional mistakes on their aid applications for a period of up to 35 days after the final date of submission – without any penalties.
Yellow card system
Hogan also called for a yellow card system to be introduced for first offenders, whereby the administrative penalty would be cut in half when the over-declaration is minor (below 10% of the area determined).
Farmers having received a yellow card will be registered and will be subject to an on-the-spot control the following year.
Under his proposal, the system of administrative penalties for direct payments would also be simplified.
The current system for the calculation of penalties is based on different categories that can result in penalties of sometimes more than double than what is over-declared.
These different categories, Hogan says, should be replaced by a simple penalty, which is 1.5 times the area over-declared.
If approved, the reduced level of penalties would apply for 2016. Small over-declarations that are up to 3% of the area declared or 2ha would continue to not be penalised.
To illustrate these changes, Hogan provided the example of a farmer who owns a small farm holding of 10ha.
Under the current system, if the farmer declares 11ha, his payment is reduced to the actual 10ha to which he is entitled. He is then penalised twice the difference (2ha).
Under the new system, before the yellow card kicks in, that same farmer would be penalised for only 1.5ha.
However, with the yellow card system, the penalty would be halved to 0.75ha if he is a first offender. This means he would receive a payment for 9.25ha – a significant improvement for what might be a relatively minor, first-time error, such as accidentally including the farmyard in the aid application.
Commenting on the proposed changes, Commissioner Hogan said: “These simplification measures should have a direct effect on farmers, sending a clear message that our interest is not to catch farmers out as it were, but ensure that public money is well spent. Farmers, I know, fully support that goal.”
He continued: “I believe that the preventive preliminary checks, the yellow card and the simplified penalty system should make the lives of farmers easier and, even more importantly, they should reduce significantly the number of errors and consequently of cases where administrative penalties would need to be applied.
“These proposed changes should end the climate of fear for farmers, and are a fair and proportionate response to the concerns of smaller farmers in particular,” he concluded.