My Department is involved in working groups and in continuing discussions with the European Commission on the detailed rules for implementing the mid-term review agreement. While it may be some time yet before the position is clear, I have already raised and will continue to raise a number of issues relating to farmers who have retired under the early retirement schemes, and the implications for them of de-coupling and the single payment scheme.
The legal position regarding the single payment system, as laid down in the European Council regulation, is that entitlements are not linked to land but to farmers who were active producers during the reference period and who remain active farmers in 2005. A farmer who joined the early retirement scheme has undertaken to give up farming permanently, and therefore he or she cannot be regarded as a farmer when the time comes to activate single payment entitlements in 2005.
Retired farmers cannot themselves activate entitlements that were earned during the reference period. However, following negotiations, the Commission has indicated that it favours arrangements that will allow family members who take over these holdings to have access to the national reserve. This would include cases where the land was leased to a non-family member at the time of retirement because a family member, usually a son or daughter, was not yet ready or eligible as a transferee at that time but subsequently takes over.
I will continue work to secure as favourable an outcome as possible to these and other issues affecting retired farmers, having regard to the legitimate aspirations of the various stakeholders involved.