22 September 2000
Scots hill plans set back
By Shelley Wright
SCOTLANDS proposals for its new support scheme for hill farmers now have no chance of European Union endorsement until mid-October at the earliest.
The proposals have suffered a further set-back after they were due this week to be on the table for approval in by the European Commission in Brussels.
Delays have occurred following a series of questions raised by officials who sit on the commissions environment directorate.
The Scottish Executive would not confirm what aspects of its proposal to switch hill support to an area-based payment have been queried.
But it is understood that one of the main sticking points surrounds the delay in introducing agri-environment options.
In its proposal, the Scottish Executive said money was unlikely to be paid for additional environmental bolt-ons during the first two years of the scheme.
Instead, most of the budget will go on “safety net” payments to minimise farmers losses caused by the move to an area-based subsidy system.
“Clarifying details of our plan to the commission has been a fairly long and drawn-out process,” said Scottish farm minister Ross Finnie.
“I remain hopeful that the unresolved points can be clarified relatively soon.”
Relatively soon, however, is not good enough for Jim Walker, president of the National Farmers Union of Scotland, who wants things to move faster.
“The executive has got to pull out all the stops and get these questions answered as quickly as possible, certainly within the next two weeks,” he said.
“We have been told that none of the questions raised by the commission is a cause of particular concern to the executive, but it must get on and provide answers urgently.”
The Scottish proposal had been due to be considered by the Star Committee in Brussels this week, along with plans submitted by England and Wales.
It will be mid-October before the committee meets again, and the Scottish proposal will be considered only if the commission is satisfied with its answers.