Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Ceisteanna (40)

Charlie McConalogue


40. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the status of the programme for Government commitment to propose a lowering of the cap on basic payments. [47191/17]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Agriculture)

Will the Minister update the Dáil on the progress on the programme for Government commitment to propose a lowering of the cap on basic payments to €100,000 for which the Minister said he would try to secure the support of his European colleagues?

The 2016 programme for Government undertook to propose a lowering of the cap on basic payments from €150,000 to €100,000 during a mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP.  However, due to the ongoing simplification and modernisation programme of the existing CAP, it is unlikely that a mid-term review of the existing CAP will now take place.

Since 16 October 2015, the maximum amount payable to any one applicant under the basic payment scheme in Ireland, excluding the greening payment, is capped at €150,000 per annum.  This option is set down in regulation 1307/2013, which establishes the current rules for direct payments to farmers under support schemes within the framework of the current CAP.  Ireland actively supported the concept of a maximum level during the current CAP negotiations back in 2013.  A further lowering of the limit would require a legislative change of the Basic Act 1307/2013 (Direct Payments Regulation) in Council. I am however committed to addressing this matter in the context of future reform of the CAP, with the European Commission scheduled to publish a communication on the CAP post 2020 on 29 November 2017. 

The Minister's response does not outline the efforts that he has made to achieve the commitment in the programme for Government. It sounds as though he is content to kick the matter to touch until the next CAP programme and stand over yet another broken promise from this Government to farmers. It is the Minister's own programme for Government. It was a firm commitment, and while it may have been included because the Deputy's party was engaging with other parties at the time and that is why it was included, there has been no follow-through nor is the Minister falling over himself to outline what he has tried to do. He is basically saying it cannot be done and we will see what happens in future. Maybe I am wrong and am being unduly harsh towards the Minister, but perhaps he will outline the efforts that he has made with his European counterparts to achieve this objective. It would be expected that when it is in the programme for Government, a genuine effort would be made to achieve it. Fianna Fáil's submission to the next CAP gives a commitment to introduce a maximum CAP payment of €60,000. The leaked draft document indicates that the Commission is considering a cap of between €60,000 and €100,000. Will the Minister say what efforts he has made to achieve it in terms of a mid-term review of the current CAP programme?

To pursue the commitments in the programme for Government, which were entered into in good faith, there is a requirement that the door would be kept open at Commission level for a mid-term review of the CAP. That has not happened. As the Deputy is aware, having referred to his party's own submission and the leaked document from the Commission, without a mid-term review there would be headlong progress into the next round of the CAP after 2020. There are leaked documents on maximum payments under the basic payment scheme in that regard, and I support going in that direction. It is worth noting in the context of the last CAP when the then Minister, Deputy Coveney ,was in office, Ireland campaigned for a significantly lower reduction than the one which was ultimately achieved, but the level of political resistance to it across members states is very substantial. We availed of the maximum discretion available to us to reduce the cap to €150,000. The programme for Government commitment was contingent on there being a mid-term review of CAP. That has not happened. We cannot engineer a mid-term review of CAP for one member state alone. It is a common policy across the 28 member states. The fact that it has not happened has made it more difficult. We are engaged in the context of the next round of CAP, and while we would support a further reduction, from previous experience we are conscious that achieving that is not easy.

Deputy McConalogue has one minute for his final supplementary.

The Minister will be aware of the adage, "If you don't ask, you won't get". In this case, it sounds as though the Minister did not ask and that he was quite happy not to get it. That commitment is done and dusted and counts for nothing in the programme for Government because it is clear from the Minister's answer that it will not happen in the current CAP programme.

On the wider issue in respect of CAP, as the Minister is well aware, the stakes are particularly high for the farming community as an average of 75% of a farmer's income comes from CAP payments. It is crucial that the next CAP programme does not see a dilution of the overall CAP budget. In light of the prospect of the UK leaving the EU and its contribution being removed, there is going to be a very real need for other countries, including our own, to increase contributions in order to maintain that budget. Is that something which the Minister will be willing to do? As a country, can we make a commitment that will be the approach and direction we will take and the outcome we will seek to achieve?

I have made the point on a number of occasions, although I am not sure if I have made it here publicly, that we should be prepared to contemplate an increase in our contribution to the EU budget. I would not like to see us making an increased contribution to the overall European Union budget if we did not see it reflected in an increased level of funding for the CAP. I accept that Europe faces many challenges, but the new challenges require new money. There should not be a raid on the CAP budget as that programme has been a spectacular success, not just in terms of support for farming, but also in terms of the public goods which have been delivered. No state has its hand up at the moment to say that it is prepared to take less. No state has its hand up to say that it is prepared to pay more in. In fact, it is the contrary in almost every respect. Member states want to pay less and take more. That is obviously an unsustainable position. This Government will not shy away from the possibility of having to contribute more but we would like to ensure that, in contributing more, the CAP will be adequately funded.