EU ministers reach accord on farm policy

Discussions in Brussels focus on distribution of single farm payment

European agriculture ministers secured a common position on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) last night in Brussels, amid concerns from Irish farming groups about the implications of the proposed redistribution of direct payments to farmers.

A cut to the next Cap budget was already sanctioned earlier this year, when agreement on the EU’s seven-year budget was reached. Ireland is now expected to receive just over €1.2 billion through the policy per year, compared to €1.5 billion previously.

Discussion has now turned to how the single farm payment will be distributed. The original reform proposal put forward by the European Commission suggested the introduction of a flat rate per hectare payment, a system already implemented by some member states, but member states are now likely to be permitted to introduce the flat rate system gradually.

Minimum payment

In terms of how the single farm payment is distributed to farmers, the crucial issue is whether a minimum payment will be introduced. Such a mandatory minimum payment would require farmers in receipt of lower levels of payments to be compensated by cuts to payments to farmers in receipt of larger payments, typically larger farmers.


Farming groups such as the IFA have argued that the current proposals would unfairly reward inactive farmers. The European Parliament has suggested that no farmer should receive less than 80 per cent or more than 120 per cent of the national average payment.

Speaking during a break in discussions yesterday evening in Brussels, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said the discussions were "tense" and "difficult". "It is to be expected that when you're trying to conclude a position," he added.

He said that the time for “outlining national positions in a hardline manner” was now over. “No country is getting everything they want, regardless how big, how powerful or how small they are.”

Agreement to end the sugar quota by 2017 looked set to be achieved last night. The initial commission proposal had suggested that 2020 should be the cut-off point.

Environmental issues

Other issues under discussion were environmental measures, designed to encourage more sustainable farming, such as the obligation for tillage farmers to have ecological focus areas (EFA) on their land.

Under the proposals, farmers will face a penalty of 25 per cent of the green payment for non-compliance with greening obligations.

Because the greening requirements apply to tillage farms, many Irish farmers are not likely to be affected.

If agreement is reached between member states on a common position regarding reform of the agricultural policy this week, this will allow the European Council to commence negotiations with the European Parliament on April 11th. Securing agreement by June is a key priority for the Irish presidency of the European Council.

Asked whether he was seeking the best deal for Irish farmers in light of his position as chair of the council of agriculture ministers, Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney said he had spent 18 months making it very clear what the Irish position was. “In the build-up to the Irish presidency we worked to make sure we could build alliances with other countries, which allowed me, once I took over as chairman, to try and act as an honest broker.”

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent