By way of introduction I would point out that in discussing the funding of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, we should bear in mind that this funding forms part of a broader EU budget which is negotiated by Finance Ministers and then agreed by the European Council and European Parliament.
The European Commission has proposed, as part of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, 2021-2027, that funding for the CAP should be set at €365 billion. This would equate to a cut of approximately 5% in the next MFF period of 2021-27.
This MFF proposal must now be negotiated by Finance Ministers and agreed by European Council and the European Parliament. The intention of the Commission is to reach overall agreement on the MFF before the European Parliament elections in 2019.
The MFF is a critical matter for all member states and its agreement requires unanimity at the EU Council. It is clear there are divergent views among member states on the appropriate level for the budget. While some are prepared to increase contributions, in particular if there are areas of added European value, there are others who equally feel strongly that the current proposals, such as they are, are too costly.
We also have to be aware that in the light of the departure of the UK from the EU, some €12 billion per annum in UK contributions will be removed from the budget. Against this background, agreeing the MFF will be very challenging.
Nonetheless, the proposal published by the European Commission is an initial position only. The final outcome will be determined by negotiations at EU level over the coming period. Achieving Ireland’s priorities in these negotiations will be a key issue for the Government. I believe that European agriculture policies have delivered for Irish farmers and consumers. I want to see support under these programmes continued and Ireland will approach these negotiations with this in mind.
The CAP proposals require more from farmers in terms of environmental standards. I believe that Irish farmers have already made a significant contribution to the environment and are prepared to do more. However, the high production and environmental standards required of EU producers must be properly supported by policies that are appropriately configured and properly funded.
Against this background, I have been working to build consensus among my agriculture colleagues in Europe with regard to maintaining the CAP budget. Recently in Madrid, I agreed a memorandum with five of my European colleagues seeking that CAP funding for 2021-27 would not be subject to cuts and would remain at the current level for the 27 EU member states. Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Finland all signed the memorandum. Support has grown for this proposal and I understand that up to 20 member states have expressed support for this position.
I have also sought to continue this work as part of ongoing bilateral meetings. Since May 2018, my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Doyle, and I have met with the EU Agriculture Ministers from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Hungary, inter alia to support a strong CAP budget after 2020. I have also met Ministers from the Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg, and Austria, and my officials engage regularly with counterparts in other member states on this issue.
Ireland needs to work closely with its EU colleagues to build a consensus around the need to reverse the proposed cuts in the CAP. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to do this and to fight for a strong CAP budget in the upcoming negotiations.