The Basic Payment Scheme, and other schemes funded through the CAP, are critical for Irish farmers, putting a total of €1.75bn into Irish farming.
The current CAP runs up to the end of 2020. The EU are at present devising their overall budget for post 2020, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF).
This will have huge implications for Irish farmers because if we want an increase in our BPS, we need a bigger CAP, and to have a bigger CAP we need a bigger EU Budget.
With the EU Commission set to present proposals for the next MFF in early May, now is the time for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to mount a major diplomatic lobbying effort to secure an increased CAP Budget.
The MFF establishes an overall ceiling for annual spending under the European Union’s Budget, and determines the contributions required from each EU Member State.
Crucially, the MFF also sets out the financial priority and allocations to different EU policy areas, including the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The details on the next CAP are currently being formulated in Brussels and are a major concern for farmers. IFA’s Brussels Office, working closely with the commodity committees and CAP Project Team, is actively involved and engaging on these critical policy issues both at national level in Dublin and in Brussels every day of the week.
At this particular moment, the first step and core focus for our Government and for EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan when it comes to CAP has to be on securing a strong increased budget – the keystone to any policy.
For our part, IFA has been working closely with our colleague farming organisations across Europe, as part of the umbrella EU farm organisation COPA, as well as with the EU Commission to gain support to increase Member State contributions.
We need our Government to take the lead and work all diplomatic channels across the EU to gain support for an increase in contributions, and a strong budget focus on CAP.
Increased CAP Budget essential
An increase in the CAP Budget is essential to increase farm incomes and close the gap with other sectors in society. In addition, the significant shortfall in EU finances due to Brexit must be made up by other member states.
An increased EU budget would also reflect the strong recovery and growth in the European economy, take account of inflation and also provide new funding for some of the new EU measures being proposed around migration and defence.
So far, 21 of 27 Member States, including Ireland, have indicated they are willing to increase their contributions to strengthen the EU Budget.
Meanwhile, however, in a clear ‘softening up’ attempt, European Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger has been busy touring Europe, talking down the EU Budget, insisting that no scenario other than a cut is possible.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar needs take a strong line against this attempt.
He needs to back farmers, make Ireland’s position on increased contributions clear, and secure the support of his counterparts for his position through serious diplomatic efforts.
Farmers know how important CAP is to what we do; direct payments account for three-quarters of our incomes, on average, and in some low income sectors make up more than 100% of income.
CAP - a policy for all
But we need to get away from the idea that CAP is ‘money for farmers’. CAP is a policy for all EU citizens, facilitated by farmers.
The policy has since evolved to include support for the important work we do in delivering public goods and in addressing society’s concerns on the environment and climate change.
We have kept our end of the bargain, but given the gap that exists between incomes in farming and those that apply across other sectors of society, it is clear that the CAP budget must be increased.
Since 1990 the percentage of overall EU budget that is going to the CAP has fallen from over 60% to 38% and the real value of payments to farmers has fallen as they haven’t kept pace with inflation. Without adequate funding, CAP cannot succeed.
CAP injects €1.75bn into the Irish economy, which flows through every single rural parish and county.
The Taoiseach’s influence must be brought to bear now on the EU Commission MFF proposals to be published in the first week of May, and must be constant when Member States have the opportunity to respond prior to further negotiations on the MFF between the European Commission, the Council and the Parliament.
These points will be made to EU Commissioner Phil Hogan when he engages in a Citizens Dialogue event on CAP 2020 on Friday, April 20th in Kilkenny.