Commissioner repeats call for ceiling on subsidies

European farm commissioner Dacian Cioloş has repeated his calls for a ceiling on farm subsidy payments.

Commissioner Cioloş was giving evidence to a private session of MPs belonging to the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee. It was difficult to justify payments totalling millions of euros as subsidies to support a minimum level of income for a single farmer, he said. “This is why I think we have to put a limit on these payments.”

Mr Cioloş said he didn’t know at what level a ceiling on subsidies should be imposed – whether it would be €200,000, €300,000 or higher. But he said it was right there should be a ceiling.

Mr Cioloş was asked whether he thought larger scale farmers would try to reorganise their businesses into smaller holdings to get around the ceiling. In response he said there was a “problem with economic logic” in agriculture”.

He said, “Especially with big farms, I don’t think their objective is only to have a big amount of payments from public money. I don’t think that we will have a very important phenomenon of the splitting or separation of farms only to have payments.

“I think a farmer uses other logic when he decides on the structure of production and farms, and is thinking not only about having a level of direct payments.”

Mr Cioloş also explained his reasons for believing that only “active farmers”, such as tenant farmers, should receive subsidies.

The aim was to focus payments on farmers who produced food as well as public goods, eliminating payments for “non-agriculture”, he said. The idea was to try to eliminate farmers who requested the same payment level just because they owned a certain area of land.

“If a farmer has worked the land, it’s normal that this farmer has the right to payments.”

Mr Cioloş said he disagreed with DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman that the Common Agricultural Policy was morally wrong. “It’s not morally wrong to support agriculture when we have specific expectations from agriculture,” he said.

The idea that the EU had a high level of market protection might have been the case 20 years ago, but it was no longer true. “That is why I cannot agree with this position.”