Scots seek urgent EU meeting over coupling U-turn

Scottish farmers and politicians have called for an urgent meeting with EU commissioner Dacian Ciolos amid revelations that Scotland will be denied a 13% coupling rate under the new CAP.

Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead reacted furiously to news that the commissioner plans to block flexibility in coupling options that would have delivered a 5% higher coupled payment to support beef and sheep farmers in Scotland .

He received a letter from Mr Ciolos on Wednesday (2 April) confirming that Scotland would be locked in to the UK’s rate of coupled support, currently 8% – and not be allowed to go higher.

“I just this morning received a letter from commissioner Ciolos confirming that Scotland is shackled to the UK’s rate of couple support and we are not permitted to go higher,” said Mr Lochhead.

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“It is unacceptable that the letter was sent to us a day after the information it contained was made public through a third-party press release.

“We have gone from seeking to use the UK’s flexibility, to being told we can have it but the UK refusing to accept that at face value, and now the commissioner reversing his position.

“I will now write to commissioner Ciolos with an immediate request for a formal meeting – and I expect to have the backing of the UK government if necessary.”

In a meeting in Brussels in February, Mr Lochhead said Mr Ciolos gave him and farm minister George Eustice assurances the UK would be allowed the flexibility to increase coupled support for Scottish farmers to 13%.

But in a U-turn, the commissioner said the UK would be refused permission to use its flexibility on coupled payments for Scotland.

“I find the complete reversal of his [Mr Ciolos’s] position, and the way the whole thing has been handled, utterly astonishing and unacceptable,” said Mr Lochhead.

“For the green light to be turned red at this point without any explanation for the change of heart is infuriating.”

He added: “Scottish farmers are the big losers here yet again. They have been condemned to the lowest rates in Europe by the UK government, and have been denied the full €223m (£185m) convergence uplift that is rightly theirs.

“Now the possibility of flexibility within the UK – something that was available under the last CAP – is no longer an option.”

Scottish Lib Dem MEP George Lyon said Mr Ciolos told him on Tuesday (1 April) that Scotland would be blocked from borrowing some of the UK’s coupling entitlement because of regionalisation.

Mr Lyon said Mr Ciolos told him that EU rules did not allow Scotland to borrow some of the UK’s coupling entitlement as the UK had chosen to implement separate CAP arrangements in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Lyon added that he was “bitterly disappointed” at the decision, adding: “Without the extra coupling for sheep producers, it is clear the Scottish government will need to rethink its plans.”

NFU Scotland had argued to borrow some of the UK’s coupling entitlement to increase coupled payments to 13% to support Scottish livestock sectors.

Higher coupled payments were seen as a lifeline for Scottish beef and sheep producers, especially those in the hills who needed the support to maintain production in fragile farming areas, said NFUS president Nigel Miller.

“We now have gaps in our support system. The real losers are going to be active hill farmers, who could well be forced to de-stock,” he added.

“Some of the beef and sheep producers in the islands are going to be very vulnerable. There was the option to increase coupled payments for calves on the hills and islands. We have lost that payment for them. This is not a good place to be in at the 23rd hour of negotiations.”

Mr Miller said NFU Scotland would be seeking to overturn the EU Commission’s decision as well as looking at ways of reducing the effect of the decision in Scotland’s overall CAP budget.

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