EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is looking to iron out distortions between member states and make the common agricultural policy (CAP) “more common”.
Addressing the NFU’s annual conference in Birmingham she said the idea of the 2008 “health check” was “not to make a new reform”, but it was “a good opportunity to cut red tape”.
“Among other things, this probably means changes to our system of decoupled payments. The principle of decoupling is a good one. But not everyone has matched the UK’s courage in applying full decoupling to all sectors: many exceptions are still applied to the starting-point of full decoupling.
“Studies have suggested that full decoupling for all sectors in all member states could unlock further benefits. So within the health check we should consider taking further steps towards full decoupling for all.
“Moreover, the system of entitlements to payments under the SPS is complicated. We could simplify it by cutting the number of types of entitlement. This is particularly true for the entitlements for set-aside. Set-aside was originally designed to help balance the cereals sector. Can it still do this in the era of decoupled payments? If not, we should consider abolishing it.”
Mrs Fischer Boel said there was a strong case for raising the level of compulsory modulation, “to help make sure that our rural policy meets our expectations”.
“I’m not in favour of voluntary modulation, but I am desperately in favour of increasing compulsory modulation,” she told the conference.
Another idea for simplifying the CAP was to raise the minimum size threshold for receiving SFP from the current 0.3ha that brought “producers” with a backyard goat into the system.
On milk quotas, Mrs Fischer Boel hinted again at their abolition post-2015.
“If we decided not to renew (milk quotas), we would have to make that clear as soon as possible, in order to give the dairy industry adequate time to prepare.
“This is why I am signalling now which way I think the wind is blowing. Personally, I believe that milk quotas are out of place in the reformed CAP. They put a serious constraint on competitiveness at a time when competitiveness is what we are supposedly encouraging. I believe we should let them pass into history.
“We may need transitional measures to give producers a soft landing, however.”
A discussion would be part of the health check as to whether quotas should be increased between 2009 and 2015.
For more on the NFU conference see our NFU AGM Special Report