Written Answers. - Disadvantaged Areas.

Brendan Smith

Question:

53 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the progress, if any, made in finalising the criteria for designation as a very severely disadvantaged area; the proposals, if any, submitted to the European Commission; when this new designation will come into effect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19864/98]

The criteria established to facilitate selection of areas for reclassification as extremely disadvantaged were as follows: (1) the areas must be already designated more severely handicapped, and should not extend beyond the boundary of the original MSH designation of 1975; (2) there must be a high proportion of "Rough Grazing" land in the areas; (3) the areas must be subject to extreme climatic conditions; (4) to ensure homogeneity of physical characteristics and farming types, areas must be at least 20,000 hectares in extent.

All potential areas were examined for compliance with these criteria, and proposals were prepared which were formally submitted to the EU Commission on 9 October 1996.

Subsequent to submission of the proposals, the Commission raised the issues of conservation and overgrazing in connection with the REPS and national heritage areas. They were concerned to ensure that proposals affecting the extent and classification of land in the disadvantaged areas did not have an adverse effect on areas being targeted by the REPS and NHAs as requiring special attention. In this regard, the Commission made it clear that discussions relating to overgrazing and conservation had to be concluded before proposals affecting disadvantaged areas could be considered. These discussions have now been concluded. As a result, cross-compliance between ewe premium and sheep headage schemes and agri-environmental measures must he introduced in 1999.

As part of the Agenda 2000 negotiations, discussions have commenced on the future funding of Structural Fund support measures, including headage. The question of a new category of extremely disadvantaged areas will be examined in the context of these discussions.