Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Questions (33)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

33. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of discussions at the most recent EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting regarding transitionary provisions for CAP post-2020; his plans to ensure that existing rural development programme, RDP, schemes such as areas of natural constraint, ANC, the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, GLAS, the beef data and genomics programme, BDGP, sheep welfare and, will continue for this transition period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49429/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Agriculture)

This question relates to the need for proper transitionary arrangement for post-2021 in the event that the new CAP is delayed, which seems likely. Given the events of yesterday and today, it is important to ensure that, alongside CAP, farmers have a proper return for the hard work they put into farming and that primary producers are protected. A number of questions on the beef task force have been tabled. I urge the Minister to clarify the comments he made yesterday on C&D Foods and to give a clear commitment to getting the beef task force up and running to ensure that farmers in this country get a fair deal.

At the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 18 November 2019, the Commission presented two proposals for CAP transitional rules. Such transitional measures are normal practice between consecutive programming periods to provide legal and financial certainty where a gap arises due to any delays in finalising a new budget and CAP regulations.

The recent Council accepted the need for such proposals and broadly welcomed them. However, discussions are ongoing, with a number of key issues yet to be agreed. The first and most important for the majority of member states is the financial flexibility regulation, which allows the continued transfer of funds between Pillars I and II in the year 2020. This is expected to be adopted by the end of this year.

The second more substantial regulation provides the option to extend the current rural development programme, in certain circumstances. It aims to provide certainty on the process around granting of support for the year 2021.

Agreement on this regulation is not expected to be achieved until summer 2020, subject to agreement on the EU budget. Discussions on the latter regulation will continue over the coming months. The transitional regulations are complex. A number of issues need to be considered in more detail with regard to the RDP and how the transitional regulation will work in practice. I am continuing to work with the Commission and my European ministerial colleagues to reach agreement on these important legislative proposals. I want to provide certainty to Irish farmers at the earliest possible date. I expect that the transitional regulations will, at a minimum, provide for the extension of the existing RDP payments into 2021. I anticipate that there should be no interruption in direct payments. The current proposals provide for the optional extension of the current RDP and potentially for new commitments for some measures for a maximum of three years. The precise arrangements will be clarified when agreement is reached on the regulations. In the meantime, the N+3 rule will continue to apply, which will mean that scheme commitments entered into by farmers prior to the end of 2020 will continue to be honoured after that date.

As the Minister is well aware, there is grave concern among the farming community about what exactly will happen after 2020. It is clear at this stage that there is going to be a gap. The key question is whether the funding will be continued, at least at its current level, during the period until the new CAP comes into play. Many of the schemes that are paid through Pillar 2, including the areas of natural constraints scheme; the green low-carbon agri-environment scheme, which is known as GLAS; the beef data and genomics programme; and the sheep welfare scheme account for a significant part of the annual incomes of farmers. It is essential that they are not brought to a stop at the end of 2020. Farmers should not be out of pocket during 2021 while we are waiting for the new CAP to kick in. Farmers who have exited the agri-environment options scheme, AEOS, are not being facilitated by the Government in getting into the new GLAS even though it has the capacity to do so. The Minister needs to open GLAS to those farmers. In my view, every farmer deserves and is entitled to be in an environmental scheme at any stage. We need to get away from the pattern that involves farmers being unable to enter new schemes for gap periods of two or three years after these five-year agreements come to an end. It is having a massive impact on their incomes. It also goes against our ongoing work to try to ensure we meet our environmental commitments.

It is important to set out the things we can say with absolute certainty. There is no change in entitlement to payments for 2020. The Commission has published draft proposals in respect of 2021. My personal view is that the transitional arrangements are highly likely to be necessary for a second year in light of the challenges that are being faced around the share of the multi-annual financial framework, under which the EU is funded, that relates to CAP. This significant challenge is separate from the other CAP challenges. I appreciate the point the Deputy has made about Pillar 2 payments. We pay a substantial number of farmers under the various Pillar 2 schemes, including the beef data and genomics programme. We are anxious to ensure those schemes are rolled over. The challenge in this regard relates to the funding requirement. We will be trying to make progress with our campaign, which is seeking to ensure they roll over with the current funding arrangements. I am conscious of those who have seen their schemes expire and to whom other schemes are not open. However, they had opportunities. They were invited to transition over to GLAS. In the context of the transitional arrangements, we would like to be in a position to open up new schemes. The details of these arrangements are the subject of ongoing negotiation.

Farmers were invited to leave the AEOS and transition to GLAS. I do not think it was reasonable of the Minister to expect them to leave the previous scheme to enter a new one. When they entered the AEOS in the first place, there was an expectation that they would be able to complete it out. There is an onus on the Minister and his Government colleagues to ensure there is a GLAS-type scheme for them to be able to continue on to. Likewise, when the current seven-year CAP programme runs out, transition arrangements will be necessary before the next programme starts. We need to see a very different approach to these RDP schemes from the Minister and the Government and at European level. This is necessary to ensure all RDP schemes are open and are funded for farmers during the relevant period at the same level as at present. If this is not the case, the vast majority of farmers in this country will face a significant drop in their incomes.

The Deputy is conveniently ignoring the fact that the funding available under Pillar 2 for the RDP is a finite resource. We offered the people who were in the AEOS the opportunity to make the transition to give them the greater certainly of the five-year GLAS contract. Some of them made this transition and others chose not to do so. I understand that some of them now claim that they were unaware of what was involved. I am acutely conscious of that in the context of the transitional arrangements. As part of the ongoing negotiations, consideration is being given to the possibility of opening up new schemes to those who are outside the existing contractual arrangements, which the Department will honour.