5 July 2002

Beckett backs

CAP shake-ups

By Philip Clarke

Europe editor

DEFRA secretary, Margaret Beckett, has voiced her strong support for radical changes to the CAP as part of the imminent mid-term review of Agenda 2000.

With EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, due to announce his proposals next week, Mrs Beckett said existing farm supports were "fundamentally flawed" and "in need of serious change".

Speaking at this weeks Royal Show at Stoneleigh, she said only a radical approach could deliver a profitable UK farming sector.

"Redirecting a proportion of payments currently made as CAP subsidies into rural development and agri-environment schemes (modulation) would be widely welcomed and entirely consistent with (Sir Don Currys) policy commissions recommendations."

Draft papers of Dr Fischlers plans, now circulating freely in Brussels, suggest Mrs Beckett will not be disappointed.

Centrepiece is expected to be a proposal for direct aids to be totally decoupled from production, with farmers paid a single amount based on their past receipts. Payment would be subject to meeting tougher environmental standards.

Compulsory modulation of 3% a year, rising to 20% off aid cheques by 2010, with the money put into rural development, will also be enthusiastically supported by the UK.

The commission is also planning a k300,000 (£195,000) cap on payments to individuals, though on this Mrs Beckett has said she will not back anything that discriminates against UK farmers.

France is also likely to object to this point, along with just about every other aspect of Dr Fischlers mid-term review proposals.

Speaking at last weeks farm council in Luxembourg, new French farm minister, Herve Gaymard, said the plans were totally unacceptable, going way beyond the framework that had already been set until 2006 by the Berlin agreement on Agenda 2000.

"That agreement represents not only a pact among member states, but a contract with European farmers and must be honoured," he said.

Mr Gaymard objected to anything that would change the level of price support, the tools of supply management and the rate and form of compensation, especially direct aids. Fundamental reform should be delayed until after 2006, he insisted.

But NFU president, Ben Gill, said he supports the sentiment that the CAP needs to be refocused to meet societys changing demands. "We need a CAP that will allow farmers to better respond to market signals, which is less bogged down in bureaucracy and which allows farmers to return to profitability," he said at this weeks Royal Show.

The NFU strongly opposes calls for a ceiling on individual subsidy receipts, and is concerned that money put into rural development would not end up in farmers pockets.

The final outcome of Dr Fischlers review will depend on discussions within the farm council. While France is likely to be joined by Ireland and the southern member states in opposing the change, the UK, Germany, Denmark and Sweden are likely to support large chunks of the package. &#42