A NEW system of allocating aid to farmers and a ceiling on the amount any individual can receive are emerging as the centrepieces of a major reform of the common agricultural policy soon to be unveiled in Brussels.
Latest rumours suggest EU farm commissioner, Franz Fischler, is planning to replace production-linked direct payments with a single aid cheque, based on historic receipts.
To qualify for this support – which may be expressed on an area basis, but would incorporate beef, sheep and dairy payments – farmers would have to meet minimum environmental and animal welfare standards.
The proposals are also tipped to include a cap of k300,000 (£195,000), with any money saved being re-circulated within the same member state. Compulsory modulation is also expected to feature, taking up to 20% off aid cheques by 2010. This money would be redirected to rural development projects.
But these ideas are likely to set Dr Fischler on a collision course with many non-reformist member states, in particular France. New farm minister, Herve Gaymard, was expected to spell out his priorities at a council meeting in Luxembourg yesterday (Thursday).
As the number one beneficiary of the CAP, pocketing almost a quarter of the k44bn (£29bn) annual budget, France is the keenest to defend the status quo. Mr Gaymard was expected to point to the 1999 Berlin agreement, which set out the budget until 2006, and insist on minor changes.
But Dr Fischler points to the latest Eurobarometer survey, which shows that more than 60% of EU citizens favour a shift in subsidies from production to direct aid and rural development. "The message of our citizens is unequivocal. They are ready to support our farmers on the condition they get environment, food safety or animal welfare in exchange. This is exactly the road I want to go further down." *
According to one UK official, the rumours circulating in Brussels are much more far reaching that Dr Fischlers initial suggestion of a simple mid-term review of Agenda 2000. "The de-coupling idea is certainly interesting, as it would help the EU in the world trade talks by making all the payments green box (immune from cuts). But its hard to see how such a single payment could be calculated fairly."