Scots’ coupling hopes suffer setback

Scotland’s enhanced coupled payments saga has seen a new twist with the news that Brussels has decreed the only way the country’s demands can comply with EU rules is through a UK-wide scheme.

Under the new CAP arrangements, the EU has set a coupled payment rate of 8% for each member state to help those farms in fragile areas. The Scots had hoped they would be given a higher rate of 13% because England did not take up its full allowance.

 But the latest solution emerging from the commission rules out a specific Scotland-led scheme and would require any higher level of voluntary coupled support to be administered through a UK-wide arrangement that only applied to Scotland.

That option isn’t to the Scottish government’s liking. Speaking following a hastily arranged meeting in Edinburgh with DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson, Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said under these circumstances he would need to “carefully consider the implications” as it would reduce Scotland’s influence and control.

See also: Extra coupled payments for Scotland?

“While it may appear this is simply a different way of achieving the same outcome, it may have wider implications, particularly given that a Scottish-led scheme only required the UK’s permission for greater flexibility,” he stated.

“As the UK will have to notify any scheme to Europe, I pressed Mr Paterson on whether the UK government will back a Scottish voluntary coupled support rate of 13%. If we do get confirmation from Europe that this is possible I expect to have the full support of the UK government.”

Mr Paterson had initially declined to meet Mr Lochhead during his visit to the Scottish parliament, where he gave evidence to the Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment committee, but he reversed the decision during the day. Mr Lochhead didn’t waste the opportunity.

He said: “I also reiterated my severe dissatisfaction about the UK government withholding the full €223m convergence uplift from Scottish farmers, and Mr Paterson made clear he would not revisit that decision.”

NFU Scotland also capitalised on Mr Paterson’s short visit north of the border to hammer home the CAP priorities for Scotland when the new rules are introduced in 2015. NFUS president Nigel Miller urged him to work with the Scottish government in order to target support to those actively farming in the most fragile areas.

“Time for decisions on CAP delivery in Scotland is pressing, but avoiding extreme redistribution of funds within the rough grazing region remains an absolute priority for NFUS and the Scottish industry,” Mr Miller said.

“Many of the problems on CAP delivery in Scotland are compounded by our limited budget. The commitment to review CAP budget distribution within the UK opens up the opportunity to address Europe’s vision for budget convergence. We impressed on the minister the need for a clearly defined timetable to be put in place to allow this review process to move forward.”

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