Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Questions (59)

Charlie McConalogue


59. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure the proposed budget cuts for the 2021-2027 CAP programme are reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28222/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

I ask the Minister to outline all the actions he is taking at EU level to ensure that the proposed cuts to the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, for the period from 2021 to 2027 are reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. It is well known that the current multi-annual financial framework, MFF, outlines an overall proposed cut of 5% over the next seven years of the CAP programme, comprising of 4% to Pillar 1 and a cut of up to 15% to Pillar 2. When inflation is taken into account over the seven years, that 5% overall cut is projected to amount to a 15% real deduction unless it is addressed. I seek an update from the Minister today on the efforts at European level to have that addressed and to ensure there is no cut when the final agreement is made.

As the Deputy alluded to, we must bear in mind that CAP funding forms part of a broader European Union budget which is agreed by Heads of State and Government and ministers for finance.

The European Commission has proposed, as part of the MFF for 2021 to 2027, that funding for the Common Agricultural Policy should be set at €365 billion. This is a cut of approximately 5%. I consider that the proposed cut is unacceptable for Ireland. The retention of an adequate budget for the CAP post 2020 is a significant priority for me and for the Government.

Negotiations on the MFF proposals have commenced and are running in parallel to the CAP negotiations. I continue to work towards building consensus among my agricultural colleagues in Europe to maintain the CAP budget. I co-signed a joint memorandum in Madrid in May 2018, to call for the CAP budget to be retained at current levels. The memorandum has been supported by up to 20 other EU agriculture ministers. Ireland needs to work closely with its European Union colleagues to build a consensus to maintain the CAP budget. I meet regularly with ministers throughout Europe to continue to build momentum on this. At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, I have consistently highlighted that the strong ambition of the CAP must be backed with strong financial support. I would like to reassure the Deputy that I will continue to do this, and to fight for a strong CAP budget as the negotiations progress.

I understand that the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark, in particular, have been resisting any increase to the CAP budget. I ask the Minister about his approach in his engagement with those countries at EU level? On the existing proposals which have been published, which involve a 4% cut, what is the view of those countries to those proposals? Are they accepting that as a baseline or are they contesting it?

Furthermore, on being able to build a coalition, which will need to include those countries because unanimity is required to get to a situation where there is no cut to the final CAP budget, what is the Minister's position on his legal engagement with other European countries on that?

On the overall European Union budget, if there is an increased allocation from member states to that, there is no guarantee that will go towards the CAP budget. I ask the Minister to outline his engagement with other countries to ensure that any budget increase is directed at CAP. What is the status of the Minister's consultations with them in that regard?

I do not underestimate the scale of this challenge at all because of the unanimity requirement. As the Deputy alluded to, the critique of some member states to the Commission's proposals of June 2018 has been that the published proposals for financial cuts do not go far enough. That is a particularly challenging starting point. Those countries, namely, the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Austria, take a polar opposite view to us. We have argued that in many ways, the CAP is a template that could be usefully emulated in other areas where the EU faces other big challenges such as in the areas of migration and security. Those challenges are not a reason to raid the CAP budget, and the Taoiseach has been quite strong on this in the context of his address to the European Parliament in early 2018, when he clearly stated our willingness to pay additional money into the European Union, but on the basis that it supports programmes that are important to us. This is a really difficult challenge on the basis that unanimity is required. We remain steadfast in our view that the budget should be protected. There is a judgment call to be made here and I do not detect any momentum for increasing the budget. If we can get to a situation where we get a protected budget, that would be as good as it would get.

We cannot overestimate the importance of the CAP budget, given that it makes up 75% of average farm incomes here. For some sectors, such as the beef and sheep sectors, it makes up over 100% of net income for farmers. It is essential that there is a positive outcome in this regard. The seven-year CAP programme from 2021 to 2027 was predicated on the draft regulations and the draft proposals being agreed by the outgoing European Parliament, which did not actually happen. As it looks as though there will be a delay, can the Minister enlighten us, from the point of view of the Department, as to what is the expectation on how long that delay might be? Many of the existing schemes in CAP form a critical part of farmers' incomes, particularly those under Pillar 2. Can the Minister assure us that schemes such as the environmental schemes and beef data and genomics programme will be extended? If there is a gap of one year or two years where schemes are not in place, that will have an exceptional and unacceptable impact on farmers' incomes and is something we cannot allow to come to pass.

On that point, I am acutely conscious of the requirements for the roll-over should the delay continue. On the other hand, I am equally concerned that the roll-over continues to exclude people whose contracts have already expired. In that sense, we need to pursue an approach to bring the CAP negotiations to a conclusion at the earliest possible date in order that we do not repeat the situation where those whose previous environmental schemes that expired, be they the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, or the rural environment protection scheme, REPS, did not switch over into the current green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, arrangements. I am very conscious that those concerned are currently without a support scheme, and they are not insignificant in number.

It is one thing to look for roll-over. That is important and we have engaged with the Commission on that. The Commission has not yet indicated and that may have been to do with the fact that it wants it to conclude and to keep the pressure on but we are now in a situation where this Commission is going out the door, there is a new Parliament and there will be a new Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. It remains to be seen whether it will feel hidebound by the deliberations of the previous committee or whether it will look at it afresh. All of that is in play. The optimum solution as I see it, is a new CAP in place at the earliest possible date but in the event that there is delay, roll-over is something we will be raising as well.

Question No. 60 replied to with Written Answers.