Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Ensuring Scotland's voice heard on reforming the EU's CAP

I’m now back in Brussels this week after our summer recess for what is likely to be an extremely busy time in the European Parliament as we head for the European elections next June. Already the first thing on my desk is to sort out our amendments to the report drafted by the Portuguese Socialist MEP Luis Capoulas Santos on the Common Agricultural Policy Health Check.

Before the summer we worked closely with the Scottish Government, Scotland’s NFU and other Scottish farming organisations to ensure Scotland’s farming and rural interests are central to the EP’s deliberations on this important issue. We submitted over 20 amendments which sought to strengthen Santos report not least by calling for example for all livestock payments to be decoupled as a way in which to simplify the single payment system for farmers and at the same time eliminate any distortions of competition which could prevent a level playing field for Scotland's farmers.

On the issue of modulation we sought the deletion of the Commission's proposals on progressive modulation which would seek to punish farms just because of their size. Modulation refers to the transfer of CAP funds from direct payments to farmers (pillar 1 of the CAP) to rural development measures (pillar 2 of the CAP)

While we want Member States to reduce voluntary modulation as compulsory modulation is raised to ensure Scotland's farmers are not placed at a major competitive disadvantage compared to their European counterparts, rural development money must not be lowered as a result. All modulated money should stay within the country that generated it so as to ensure there is maximum compensation for farmers whose income was reduced by modulation.

On cross compliance issues we want to see less administrative burdens being placed on farmers with greater emphasis on local decision-making via devolved governments and regional bodies. Our other amendments focused on issues such as abolishing payments for tobacco aid. Back in May the EP took the crazy decision to vote in favour of maintaining more than £200 million in EU subsidies for tobacco production. Given the amount of money the EU ploughs into public awareness campaigns about the dangers to public health from smoking this for me was a bad day for the Parliament and a bitter irony.

We'll be looking for as much support as possible for our amendments when the Agriculture Committee comes to vote on the draft Santos report on 7 October after which it will go to plenary for further debate and vote on 18 November.

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