Thursday, 9 May 2019

Questions (8)

Tom Neville


8. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to discussions regarding the next CAP reform and the protection of the CAP budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20101/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the position with regard to discussions regarding the next Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, reform and the protection of the CAP budget, and if he will make a statement on the matter.

The CAP post-2020 legislative proposals were published by Commissioner Hogan on 1 June 2018. Since then, intensive discussions have taken place. A significant number of working group meetings have been held under both the Austrian and Romanian presidencies. The proposals have also been discussed extensively at the Special Committee on Agriculture meetings and have been a standing agenda item at every Council meeting of EU agriculture ministers.

The Romanian Presidency has outlined its ambition to achieve a partial general approach on the CAP post-2020 proposals at its final meeting of EU agriculture ministers in June. To that end, the Presidency is undertaking ongoing discussions in Brussels on all elements of the proposals. While I am supportive of this ambitious timetable, it is very much dependent on a number of factors progressing in a timely manner. The European Commission's objective has been to have the proposals adopted by the co-legislators prior to the European Parliament elections in May. However, the European Parliament has not fully achieved agreement on the proposals and, until the position of the newly elected Parliament is known, it is difficult to have a clear timetable for the CAP reform process.

The draft proposals present a number of new and significant challenges for member states. The move from a compliance-based system to a performance-based system with a focus on results is perhaps the most significant change for member states to have to contend with in the new proposals. Member states will be required to prepare a CAP strategic plan, covering Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 expenditure. This will allow member states greater flexibility to design measures that are best suited to their own strategic needs. While I welcome this flexibility, preparation of the CAP strategic plan presents a number of challenges and complexities for member states, not least of which is the requirement for member states to submit their draft CAP strategic plans to the Commission for approval before the deadline of 1 January 2020. My Department is working towards this deadline, albeit amid uncertainty surrounding agreement on the funding for the next CAP as well as the finalisation of the regulations.

While significant progress has been made in the negotiation process to date, decisions on key issues, such as the provisions for direct payments and the new delivery model, have still to be agreed upon at EU level. The CAP proposals also point to a more significant environmental ambition than the current CAP. Member states will be required to design a specific climate and environment scheme in Pillar 1. This is something that I support as it is consistent with my Department’s long-term strategy for the agricultural sector, which recognises the critical importance of environmental sustainability. I believe that farmers play a vital role in the provision of public goods and need to be appropriately recognised and recompensed for this role.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

With this in mind, the retention of a sufficient budget for the CAP post 2020 is an essential requirement for Ireland. I have been very firm in my view that the proposed 5% cut to the CAP post-2020 budget as outlined in the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, proposals for 2021 to 2027 is completely unacceptable for Ireland. I have been strongly advocating for the CAP budget to be restored to current levels for the EU 27 post 2020, and I will continue to work towards achieving this objective until agreement on the MFF post-2020 proposals has been reached. There is also consensus on this point among my EU agriculture ministerial colleagues. However, EU budget negotiations are led by ministers of finance.

Furthermore, agreement on the overall EU budget must be reached by unanimity and this is a challenging task. 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 EU agriculture ministers from Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, Finland and Hungary, inter alia, to support a strong CAP budget post 2020. I have also met ministers from the Netherlands, Estonia, Belgium, Poland, Luxembourg and Austria. 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 can assure the Deputy that I will continue to do this and to fight for a strong CAP budget as the negotiations progress.

The Minister mentioned the environmental side and the development of agriculture. We already know that agriculture is our most important indigenous sector. I represent County Limerick and agriculture is the backbone of where I am from. Nationally, 8.6% of the working population is involved in agriculture and there are associated industries.

There are big things coming down the track, including that we meet EU commitments to Food Wise 2025. There are also challenges related to Brexit and climate change. Climate change is a challenge for agriculture. I was a member of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, and over recent months the committee heard from the agricultural and climate change sectors about this matter. We were milking cows in Ireland while the country was going down the Swanee to help drag us out of where we were. The main thing is to protect agriculture as much as we can and, in tandem, protect the environment. The two should go hand in hand. What came out of the report of the Committee on Climate Action was not that there was a conflict between agriculture and climate action but that the two would work together, hand in hand, and that farmers, as custodians of the land, would be enabled to help with climate change and would be rewarded for doing so.

Could we explore that through CAP negotiations and funding? There should be a bottom-up approach to consultation.

Farmers being rewarded for that is a critical issue. The big challenge in the current CAP is that the proposals as they stand see a significant cut in the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy. We can have all the ambition we want but if we do not have a budget to implement it, it will be for naught. Much of our endeavour has been about the political manoeuvres required to see that budget restored at least to its current levels. That is challenging because it is not a decision for the Council of agriculture ministers but for the Council of finance ministers. Some member states have critiqued the proposals as published, stating that the cuts do not go far enough. That is a challenge. I think the Deputy is right in the sense that the environment will be a critically important part of farming in the future and the CAP must support that. It is abundantly clear that the market is saying that it is not enough any more to have just safe, nutritious or traceable food. It wants to know what is being done about numerous climate-related issues, including carbon footprint, antimicrobial resistance and animal welfare standards. In many ways, we have been on that treadmill already. We just need to speed it up somewhat and I think that farmers are up for that challenge.

As part of the work of the Joint Committee on Climate Action, we spoke to the farming organisations. There is a 28-point plan from Teagasc to follow. To give a brief outline, it includes agricultural mitigation, improved breeding, changing fertiliser types and slurry spreading, land use, carbon sequestration, increased broadleaf forestry, improved pasture management and energy efficiency, fossil fuel displacement, biofuel and anaerobic digestion. These points all came up. I have learned through commentators and media that the farming organisations are on board with and welcomed the report of the Joint Committee on Climate Action. We want to drive it forward. With regard to CAP, communication and consultation will be vital. The bureaucracy relating to CAP has come up constantly as one of the issues under some of the research that I have just looked up on it. If that can be addressed, that will help to drive change and help the relationship.

We will go out to public consultation on all of these issues again later this year. The views of farmers on simplification and having less bureaucracy will be a critical part. That message is coming from the Commission too. We are already acting on matters such as improving the genetic merit of the herd, which reduces its carbon footprint, and on slurry management and low emission slurry spreading, which releases less methane. That reduces the amount of greenhouse gases produced. As for what is published, there will be conditionality on Pillar 1 payments, which will contain a significant environmental element. The direction of travel is abundantly clear and that suits us because we are global players with regard to exports. The markets that pay the highest dividends ask the most challenging questions. Those are the markets we want to be in. It is a good fit for us. It is challenging. How we send the message and bringing the farming community with us will be important. From all the soundings from farm leaders, I think it is recognised that we do not have a choice about this but it is the right thing to do for economic reasons and for future generations.

Questions Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.
Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, replied to after Question No. 22.
Questions Nos. 15 to 21, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.