Paterson calls for CAP ‘equivalence’

DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson has called on Brussels to reach the right agreement on CAP reform – even it takes longer than anticipated.

Speaking during a break from a European farm ministers meeting in Brussels, which ran from the 28-29 November, Mr Paterson said any deal must be simple, cost-effective and flexible.

“We don’t want to rush into this,” Mr Paterson told Farmers Weekly. “We want to get a settlement but not at the cost of getting it wrong.”

The last CAP reform had seen the UK rush into an agreement only to be unexpected hit months later by £550m in EU “disallowance” fines, he suggested.

Covering the period 2014-2020, it is understood the next round of the CAP will see farmers expected to adopt further environmental measures in return for financial support from Brussels.

Mr Paterson said he wanted to use England’s existing agri-environment schemes as building blocks for farmers to meet their “greening” requirements under a reformed CAP.

European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos supports the so-called “equivalence” concept, so long as agri-environment schemes are “at least equivalent to greening”.

“We want to get a settlement but not at the cost of getting it wrong.”
Owen Paterson

Mr Paterson said: “We have very good environmental schemes and it is obvious to base our agri-environmental obligations on initiatives such as entry level stewardship.”

Above all, it was important that any CAP deal was simple, easy to understand and flexible – without being costly, he added.

Attempts to reach a deal on CAP reform are likely to continue well into next year after European Union budget talks collapsed last week in Brussels.

Although CAP reform is one the agenda during this week’s farm council meeting, no attempt to reach a full deal will be made until the EU budget has been decided.

It remains unclear whether farmers will face cuts in agricultural support – and if so by how much.

Prime Minister David Cameron believes an EU budget deal is “do-able” but says cuts to the CAP will central to the prospects of reaching agreement.

Earlier budget proposals tabled by European Council president Herman Van Rompuy suggested a 5% reduction in direct payments and a 9% reduction in rural development funding

He later upped his offer by €8bn – but it was still €17bn less than a proposal from the European Commission.

Mr Cameron believes cuts must go much further. As well as “very significant cuts” to the CAP, he is targeting big reductions in structural and cohesion funds.

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