Scottish farmers and politicians have been left reeling after news leaked from Europe dashed expectations they could borrow some of the UK’s coupling entitlement and deliver a 13% coupling rate for Scotland under the new CAP.
As part of the reform deal agreed last summer, Europe would limit coupled support in Scotland to a maximum of 8% of Scotland’s direct payments ceiling.
But NFU Scotland has made it a priority to argue that basing the percentage of funding that could be used for coupling in Scotland on the UK ceiling instead would give the country greater flexibility and deliver up to 5% additional coupling.
The proposal was supported by the Scottish government, and at a meeting in February between EU commissioner Dacian Ciolos, DEFRA secretary Owen Paterson and Scotland’s rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, it was understood that Mr Ciolos agreed to accept the approach.
However, Mr Ciolos told Scottish MEP George Lyon this week that EU rules did not allow that to happen because the UK has chosen to implement separate CAP arrangements in separate countries. As a result, each part of the UK had to comply with the CAP rules as it if were a separate country.
It is understood the commissioner has since written to the UK and Scottish governments informing them of his final decision.
The Scottish government and NFUS reacted to the news – and the way it was delivered – with anger and exasperation.
Mr Lochhead described the outcome as a “bitter blow” to Scotland’s farmers.
“But it suits the UK government and UK secretary of state Owen Paterson, who has made clear he is against higher coupled support,” he said. “On top of the outrageous and morally wrong refusal to pass on in full the €223m (£185m) convergence uplift that rightly belongs to Scottish farmers, this is a horrible double whammy for our hard-working industry.
“It’s utterly galling that there is one rule for coupling and another for the convergence uplift – and yet the outcome on both for Scottish farmers is heads we lose, tails we lose again.”
NFUS president Nigel Miller said that revoking a decision taken only a few weeks ago was “beyond belief”.
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He added: “We had been led to believe that additional coupling was now an agreed part of the reform, and moving the goalposts at this stage is unacceptable to the many Scottish farmers who are directly affected.
“If a top-up to our coupling options is ruled out, it significantly constrains the room for manoeuvre and flexibility for delivering support within our rough-grazing areas.
“As it stands, the European agreement on CAP will have failed to deliver vital convergence funding to Scotland, and also left us without the necessary targeting options to provide appropriate levels of support to Scottish farmers in fragile areas.
“For most member states, with satisfactory budgets, securing this level of flexibility isn’t an issue – but for Scotland it is.”