British Lords call for cuts in farm payments

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A British House of Lords panel is urging the European Commission to reconsider some of its key agricultural proposals, calling for more robust spending on research and cuts in direct payments to farmers.

In a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, the Lords’ EU Committee says the Commission is missing the opportunity to redirect money in the 2014-2020 round of funding for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) towards research and innovation.

But the letter supports the EU executive's decision to strengthen funding for research in the CAP’s second pillar – which provides support for rural development and preservation. The much larger first pillar provides direct payments to farmers.

Lord Roper, the committee chairman, says in the letter he welcomes the “positive changes” proposed to Pillar 2 to boost EU funding for research and innovation, but “we are very disappointed by the overall lack of ambition shown in the reform package.

“In light of the current economic and climatic challenges, new approaches are required, and we strongly regret that the opportunity appears to have been misses to introduce them.”

A spokesperson for Cioloş was unaware of the letter, released yesterday (2 February) by Britain's upper chamber of Parliament, saying the office regularly receives communications about agricultural policies.

Still, the letter highlights some of the national concerns about the CAP proposals, including the EU executive’s plan that would dedicate 30% of all direct payments to farmers to promote conservation.

MEPs and national farm ministers from several countries – including Germany, France, Britain and Ireland – have expressed concerns that the conservation payments would lead to more paperwork for farmers and administrative burdens for national governments.

Budget jitters

There are broader concerns about costs of CAP, which now accounts for about 40% of the EU’s budget and would fall to 36% under the EU executives proposals for the next budget period.

The proposed budget, or Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), for 2014-2020 calls for spending €281.8 billion for Pillar I  and €89.9 billion for rural development. But the Commission also wants to significantly increase in funding for agricultural research under the separate Horizon 2020 programme. 

CAP, along with all EU programmes, could be on the chopping block by the time national governments approve the MFF.

Outlining the Commission’s broader budget challenges in an address yesterday (2 February) in Brussels, Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas says the EU “is at a very crucial moment.”

“A couple of days ago, there was another European summit which produced a lot of nice words about growth and how to facilitate growth, and we all share these views and we are all very optimistic that this will be a real breakthrough in facilitating growth in Europe.

“At the same time there is a discussion concerning the next Multiannual Financial Framework, and this really looks bad,” he said, adding there were concerns about “sudden and somehow not very well organised cuts” in the MFF.

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