Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan raised the alarm on Thursday (7 January) over a possible Brexit, stressing that it would adversely impact British farmers.
In a speech at the Oxford Farming Conference (7 January), Hogan tried to present the “bright side” of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), as well as the immediate consequences of a Brexit on the UK’s agricultural sector.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the European Union, and then go for an in/out referendum by the end of 2017.
Referring to the referendum, Hogan pointed that his aim was not to instruct the British how to vote, but “to set out the facts of today’s CAP”.
Focus on global trade
In an effort to attract the market-oriented British mindset, Hogan said that the new reformed CAP for the period 2014-2020 has become “more liberal, more flexible, and more outward looking”, focusing on trade in the global marketplace.
Referring to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), he said that a balanced deal would see “significant benefits accrue to the British economy” and cited the trade deal with Canada (CETA), “which should benefit the UK economy by €1.74 billion per year”.
Hogan also stressed that the EU has negotiated free trade agreements with a number of third countries, as trade with the rest of the world has become “a major plank of EU policy”.
A possible Brexit would see the UK renegotiating trade agreements with third countries, and Hogan warned that London would need years to establish its own global trade bonds.
“How would Britain, with a population of 60 million, fare in negotiating with countries like China, with a population 1.3 billion? In the EU, it punches at a weight of 500 million, almost twice the size of the US,” the Commissioner stated.
Re-entering EU’s market
Hogan also said that the CAP is a legally binding contract between the EU and farmers up to 2020, which cannot be cut.
“However, outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other departmen. Can farmers compete with doctors, nurses and schools in such a review?“ Hogan asked the audience.
Reentering the EU’s internal market is another challenge for British farmers.
“Would the British Exchequer [the government department that is responsible for receiving and dispersing the public revenue] be prepared to pay a price that fully guaranteed your access for agricultural products? Would it expect farmers to pay part of the access fee through higher taxes?”
Greening and simplification
The Agriculture Commissioner noted that he was aware of the fact that the greening measures introduced in the last CAP reform “are not universally popular”.
According to figures provided to EURACTIV by DG AGRI, the new CAP will be 155% “greener” compared to the previous 2007-2013 period.
>>See the Infographic: How much greener is the new CAP?
For the UK, €8.82 billion is earmarked for actions that relate to the green priorities of the new CAP.
Hogan said that he encouraged the British government to contribute to the simplification process.
The Commissioner added that he had “listened to its concerns” and had made some practical improvements, such as increasing flexibility in mapping requirements for Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) and granting the possibility of modifying parcel declarations for greening after submission.
“The next round of CAP simplification will see 200 existing EU regulations reduced to 40 or 50, cutting red tape for farmers, operators and national administrations alike,” Hogan pointed out.
According to a Eurobarometer survey published this week, 54% of UK respondents said that the new CAP should focus on ensuring a fair standard of living for farmers (49% EU level).
Asked about the “main responsibilities” of farmers in a society, 55% of those surveyed set the welfare of farm animals as a priority, followed by supply with a diversity of quality products (30%).
In December, the International Federation for Animal Health’s European chapter (IFAH-Europe) told EURACTIV that global warming has led to a rise of new and reemerging diseases, “which have seriously affected animals”.