Brussels looks set to extend the deadline for Basic Payment Scheme applications amid deepening concerns about the new system.
With just weeks to go, European farm commissioner Phil Hogan said he was willing to “look favourably” at the option of extending the 15 May deadline.
It follows warnings from farm leaders that inadequate computer systems were leaving farmers unable to make scheme applications.
Mr Hogan didn’t say how long the deadline might be extended – but it is thought that farmers across Europe could now be given at least until mid-June to submit applications.
Further clarification is expected within the coming days.
“I am aware of concerns raised in some member states regarding the final date of aid application for direct payments,” said Mr Hogan.
See also: 10 steps to a successful BPS claim
European commission officials were looking at the best way to address farmers’ concerns about the online application system, he added.
Mr Hogan said it was important that farmers didn’t “suffer the consequences” of delays on behalf of countries faced with the challenge of implementing the new scheme in its first year.
“For this reason, I am willing to look favourably at the option of a delay in the final date of submission of applications for direct aid, as a possibility for all member states,” he said.
The commissioner’s comments came as farmers in England again warned that the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) online application system was inadequate.
NFU vice-president Guy Smith told Farmers Weekly: “It is evident now that something is fundamentally awry with the system.”
Mr Smith said the union was “frustrated and alarmed” at the ongoing stream of complaints it was receiving about the RPA online system from its members.
Over recent weeks, farmers have complained that the system lacks functionality, leaving growers and livestock producers unable to complete their applications.
RPA chief executive Mark Grimshaw has repeatedly sought to reassure farmers that the system will be fully functional in time for applicants to meet the scheme deadline.
Farmers in Scotland face similar challenges.
The Scottish government has printed 20,000 paper forms in case their online application system fails.
Mr Hogan said: “My services are currently investigating how best to address these concerns in the most appropriate legal manner.”
Member states who postponed the final date for submission of aid application would have to ensure they did so while maintaining sound financial management, he added.