Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Questions (61)

Brendan Smith


61. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the plans he intends to propose at the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting regarding the need to protect the CAP budget post 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41952/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

As we all know, payments under CAP are the backbone of Irish farming. They are important for the farming community, the rural economy and the overall national economy. Farm families are very concerned about the present proposal to reduce the post-2020 CAP budget by 5%. When a low level of inflation is factored in, this reduction will equate to a 15% reduction over a seven-year period, which is not sustainable. The Irish agriculture community would be very concerned about any such proposed reduction in an essential income support for this sector.

As part of the multi-annual financial framework, MFF, for the period 2021 to 2027 the European Commission has proposed a reduction of approximately 5% in the CAP budget post 2020. As this proposed reduction is unacceptable for Ireland, during discussions on the post-2020 CAP at EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meetings I have taken every opportunity to call for the CAP budget to be maintained.

Yesterday, I joined 16 ministerial counterparts in reiterating the call we made in mid-2018 for the post-2020 CAP budget to be maintained at current levels. While I acknowledge that many people believe this degree of ambition is not overwhelming, it reflects the reality that there are insufficient levels of support for increasing the budget. That is why we are seeking to have it maintained at current levels. During a discussion on potential CAP measures to support carbon sequestration at an informal Council meeting in Helsinki at the end of September, I made the point that higher levels of climate ambition must be matched by a strong CAP budget post 2020. We cannot keep asking our farmers to do more for less money. At previous Council meetings, I called for an adequate CAP budget to meet the increasing demands being placed on Irish and European farmers.

I have held a large number of bilateral meetings with my ministerial counterparts on this issue. I have participated in joint initiatives with other member states, such as the joint memorandum that was agreed in Madrid in May 2018. I have discussed the matter with Commissioner Hogan on a number of occasions. These efforts will continue over the coming months as negotiations on the post-2020 CAP and the future budget intensify.

I am glad the Minister has reiterated that the current proposals are unacceptable. I understand that there are 15 or 16 like-minded member states. I hope the Heads of Government or Heads of State of those member states are of the same opinion as their agriculture Ministers. Perhaps the Minister will let us know the Taoiseach's opinion on adequate funding for CAP. As the Minister quite rightly stated, it is not acceptable that a greater onus is being placed on farmers to do more for less money. We are all very conscious of the significant income pressures being faced by people in all sectors of the farming community. Does the Minister think that an urgency is being attached to finalising the budget by the end of the year? Under a contingency that was put in place by Commissioner Hogan, the budget might be rolled over by a year if the MFF is not complete. What is the outlook at present? What is the likely timescale for the completion of the MFF level of funding and the CAP budget? Are we likely to see those issues being prioritised and finalised early in the lifetime of the new Commission?

The existing CAP is going to roll over for a period of 12 months. I raised the necessary delegated acts to facilitate that with the Commission yesterday during a bilateral meeting. I hope that will happen quite shortly. We need to ensure that the systems within the Departments are prepared as quickly as possible in order that payments can continue to be made. The position of the Taoiseach and the Government on the funding of the EU is very clear. When the Taoiseach addressed the European Parliament, he made it very clear that we are willing to pay more to support projects that are really important to us, including CAP. We are making this commitment from our position as one of the highest per capita net contributors in the entire EU. It is not simply a case of calling for more money. We put more into the EU than we get out of it. Much of what we get out of it comes through CAP. I agree strongly with the Deputy's point that farmers are being asked to do more and more. It appears that almost daily, nearly every one of this country's 5 million citizens tells farmers what they should do and how they should do it. Farmers seem to be admonished if they do not do things to the highest standard. It is the same right across Europe, where every day of the week 450 million citizens seem to tell farmers what to do. We need to be careful not to have a kickback against that. Farmers are operating to very high standards by international and global comparison. If we are asking them to do more, we need to give them the necessary resources to help them to do more.

I accept the final remarks made by the Minister. CAP, which was established in 1962, is important not only as a means of supporting the farming community, but also as a means of ensuring the citizens of Europe can access a secure supply of safe food. It supports 22 million farmers across the EU, as well as 44 million people in the overall food industry. It is important to keep emphasising the partnership that has existed between CAP and European society as we seek to ensure that the CAP budget is prioritised at all times. It is not just about transferring funds to the farming sector - it is also about ensuring we have a vibrant rural community. When people suggest that a greater onus and additional demands should be placed on the farming community, they should bear in mind that if we are not careful to ensure proper supports continue to be given directly to the farming community, we run the risk of land not being farmed and land being abandoned. If those supports are provided, all of society will benefit accordingly.

I agree entirely with the Deputy's analysis. The point is well made. It is not just about supporting farmers - it is also about supporting rural communities. I think CAP has worked really well for us across Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 in terms of the supports it gives. The challenge is that not everybody shares the Deputy's view. As he knows, unanimity is required for an EU budget. We have to convince some other member states that have differing views on how Europe, and new challenges in Europe, should be funded. Our view is that Europe should not be funded by raiding CAP, which has been a successful common policy in the area of agriculture. The obvious challenges that need to be addressed collectively in other areas, including migration and security, which are readily recognised as important challenges we need to face together, should not be used as a reason to rob the budget for CAP, which is working really well to deliver safe food and many other public goods that are demanded by society in respect of matters such as biodiversity and water quality. The policy needs to reflect the fact that farmers are the solution rather than the problem here. Given the demographic challenges being faced in the agriculture sector, it is not inconceivable that in a very short space of time we could be outsourcing our food requirements. Our food security could be compromised in that context if we do not support agriculture in the way that is needed.