The UK has struck a deal to keep the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on its path of reform, the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson announced today.
In response to pressure from the UK, the Agriculture Council has provided reassurance that each of the four UK countries can continue to implement CAP regionally.
Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson said:
A one size fits all approach to CAP just doesn’t work. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales must be allowed the freedom to deliver outcomes tailored to their own circumstances.
Working with all the Devolved Administrations and ensuring we spoke with one voice as part of these negotiations has been essential. I am delighted that we have successfully secured key changes to address concerns for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales on issues such as internal convergence and Areas of Natural Constraint. We will continue to represent the interests of the whole of the UK throughout discussions with European Parliament.
The Council agreed to the Environment Secretary’s appeal for the UK to have freedom to design its own greening measures that will benefit the environment and UK farming.
At the start of the negotiations Member States were required to offer the European Commission’s greening measures in parallel with their own. Mr Paterson secured an important concession so that England can avoid the costs and confusion of parallel schemes by greening direct payments entirely through its own national scheme.
Mr Paterson made clear that the commission’s greening outcomes should be delivered through a simple system, achieving environmental benefits without imposing unnecessary costs on farmers and securing value for taxpayers. Today’s decision will give England the opportunity to achieve these objectives by building on the success of existing agri-environment schemes. Discussions with farmers can now begin on how greening should be designed, alongside the next Rural Development Programme.
Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson continued:
The EU requires all farmers to deliver environmental benefits for 30% of their Pillar One CAP payments. The system that emerged from reforms under the previous Government was far too complex and the UK ended up being fined €550 million for not sticking to the rules. I’ve been absolutely clear that this must not happen again. The UK should have the freedom to have a simple, easy to manage system that builds on our well established arrangements. We’re now one very important step closer to being able to set our own greening measures, which work for farmers and use taxpayers’ money more effectively to deliver real environmental benefits.
The majority of Member States were content to allow farmers to be paid twice under two different budgets for delivering the same environmental benefit. Mr Paterson made clear that he shares the European Parliament’s strong opposition to this policy.
Despite significant pressure from some Member States to extend sugar beet quotas to 2020, the UK, working with allies, persuaded the Council to agree that they will end in 2017.
Owen Paterson made his feelings clear:
Sugar beet quotas are bad for business and bad for consumers. They are driving up the wholesale price of sugar by 35% and adding one per cent to hard pressed families’ food bills. I’m disappointed that they will continue beyond the date previously set for them to end but we have achieved a compromise and fought off calls for the end to be in 2020.
Britain’s cake, biscuit and confectionary industries support thousands of jobs and turn over billions of pounds each year. The boom in global demand for western-style foods is creating huge opportunities for growth in this sector which we should not hold back. I’m glad that sugar beet quotas will finally be scrapped and I’m determined to work with the Commission to ensure fair treatment for cane sugar refiners.
The EU Council concluded that coupled payments, the proportion of CAP subsidies linked to production, should increase. Under today’s proposals, Member States, including the UK, which have made the most progress in decoupling payments, will be allowed to pay up to seven percent of their direct payment budget as coupled payments. The remaining Member States will be allowed up to twelve per cent.
Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson added:
The UK and our allies are clear that coupled payments are part of the past. It’s disappointing that the Council proposed they continue, but today`s agreement is still a clear improvement on the European Parliament’s proposal for 15% or even 18%. We continue to fight for a common low rate.
Mr Paterson successfully fought off pressure from some Member States to see extended use of market intervention. Reducing market intervention has helped to keep Europe on the path towards a more competitive farming sector, rather than one subsidised by taxpayers.
Owen Paterson went on to say:
I’m pressing for further progress towards an open market that makes farmers less dependent on subsidies.
Earlier this week, Mr Paterson called on the European Commission to ensure that any decision on neonicotinoids is taken in light of field studies into their effects on bee populations. Today, eleven member states supported Mr Paterson’s call for the Commission to use all the latest scientific evidence.
Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson concluded:
I am determined to do what’s right for bees. We should not be rushed into taking the wrong decision based on inconclusive evidence from laboratory tests. Our decision must be based on real bee activity in real fields. The results of our field trials are now being peer reviewed and I have promised to make them available to all member states and the Commission in the next two weeks.