Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Making the CAP work better for Scotland

Discussions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 are now beginning to get underway across in Brussels with some countries already setting out their stalls and looking for common ground with others.

EU farming ministers met in Annecy yesterday for an informal meeting for a broad discussion on how best to prepare for the CAP for the future. The French are keen to get this debate going not least since according to their Farm Minister, Michel Barnier, "there is no shared vision" among the 27 EU countries and with discussions underway about the future funding priorities of the EU's budget for 2013-2020 (not least in terms of the size of the future CAP budget) strategic reflection on the future shape and direction of Europe's agricultural policy is fundamental.

The paper produced by the French Presidency sets out the broad outlines for such a discussion. It recognises that European agriculture will have to meet a number of challenges, such as high prices of certain raw agricultural products especially cereals, oilseeds, butter and milk powder which not only raises issues for consumers by putting pressure on food prices but also makes it more expensive for farmers to raise livestock. Other challenges for the future include sustainable food production and ensuring the food security of the EU as well as food safety which is linked to rising health risks, maintaining the diversity of European agriculture and rural life and encouraging farmers to innovate and adopt more new environmentally friendly production techniques to help tackle the challenges of climate change.

From these initial discussions, it's clear where the dividing lines are already beginning to emerge. Countries such as the UK, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands want to see the market at the centre of the CAP with greater priority given to pillar 2 - rural development. While Spain, France, Italy and Belgium want to see a strong CAP maintained with a strong first pillar - direct payments for farmers. The new member states were extremely clear in their demands for a fairer system for the distribution and allocation of direct support (pillar 1 funds) as from 2014. This essentially concerns the single farm payment which involves a flat rate per hectare payment for all farmers.

While discussions will continue under the Czech Presidency the real debate on the CAP future will however come after the EP elections next June and the appointment of a new Commission and a new Farming Commissioner in November 2009. The SNP's team in Brussels has been working extremely hard alongside the Scottish Government and Scotland's farming communities to safeguard Scotland's farming interests within the CAP health check and beyond.

Unlike the UK government which wants to see an end to payments for farmers, the SNP wants to make the CAP work better for Scotland’s farming and rural needs. Already it is clear that the views of the Scottish Government are finding much support with many of our European partners.

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