Ciolo?: EU farm spending slowly shifting eastwards

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Farmers in Western countries such as France could see their subsidies cut by up to 7% as more money is being channeled to Central and Eastern European states. EU farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolo? spoke to EURACTIV in an exclusive interview ahead of proposals today to reform the EU's Common Agricultural policy for 2014-2020.

While the share of the EU budget going to the CAP is expected to stay largely unchanged, the Commission has pledged to give new member states a "fairer" share of the total amount.

Ciolo? did not cite precise figures when asked how much less a farmer in a country like France would receive – and how much more a poorer Latvian farmer would get.

However, he noted that the decrease in payments to farmer in "older" EU member countries “would not be that important”.

"I do not have the figures in mind, but let's say somewhere between 1 and 7%. The minimum contribution is 1%, and for countries with the highest levels of payments, the maximum decrease will be around 7%."

The farm commissioner acknowledged that the convergence process will take longer for Eastern farmers, because there is a need to keep a balance in overall EU budget allocation between member states.

In a country like Latvia, the difference could be felt rapidly. Under the Commission's proposal, the hectare payment there “could go from some €87 in 2013 to €140 in 2020” – a 62% increase over seven years.

But other "new" member states like Hungary or Slovenia are not going to observe any increase in their share as their payments are already superior to 90% of the EU average, Ciolo? said.

Eliminating support for ‘sofa farmers’

In the end, what an individual farmer will receive will also depend on how redistribution is made within a member state, he insisted.

The payments will be gradually decreased for the largest farms, with a limit of €300,000 per farm. “Large farms getting unlimited payments is no longer in line with the new logic of direct payments,” the Commissioner insisted.

The Commission also wants to make sure EU aid only supports agriculture with “sofa farmers” such as landowners of golf fields, no longer eligible to receive aid.

Making the CAP 'greener'

One controversial aspect of the reform is to make 30% of aid conditional to environmental protection measures – crop diversification, maintaining permanent pastures and a minimum percentage of farm land (7%) dedicated to biodiversity.

While France argues that the 30% objective is too ambitious, Ciolo? said other commissioners had argued for an even bigger percentage, which in the end made the proposal "defendable".

He said the EU executive has tried to choose “simple measures” that do not bring any additional costs to farmers but still contribute to good management of natural resources.

He also insisted that "greening" subsidies was not about making CAP payments subject to eco-conditionality. Part of the direct payments support basic income for all farmers in the EU while 30% of the payments will be set aside to encourage farmers to apply green agricultural practices, he said.

As farmers cannot be forced to adopt the proposed greening measures, “there will be no penalty for non-compliance to the greening and, in this case, the payments will simply be stopped”, Ciolo? said. Therefore, it is up to each farm to make its calculation to see if it has an incentive to opt for the green path to get the extra 30% payments, he added.

Ciolo? insisted that the "greening" component of the CAP reform proposal was therefore purely voluntary, unlike the "cross-compliance" requirements in the current policy. Under current rules, farmers can actually be punished with fines for failing to respect EU laws on animal welfare for example, he noted.

The Commissioner also insisted that with its proposal to subject direct subsidies to "green" conditions, the Commission was not adding any new standards, but was, on the contrary, withdrawing them.

The list of cross-compliance obligations applied after 2014, for example, will be “significantly reduced”, he said.

To read the full interview (in French), click here

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a system of EU agricultural subsidies and programmes, which according to the European Commission costs each EU citizen around 30 eurocents a day.

At around €53 billion a year, the CAP currently represents some 40% of the EU's long-term budget for 2007-2013, compared to nearly 71% in 1984. The EU executive expects the figure to fall to 33% in 2013.

The majority (over 70%) of CAP spending goes to direct payments for farmers, while some 20% of the CAP budget is spent on rural development measures. The rest is handed out as export subsidies to food companies.

France is the biggest beneficiary of the policy by around 20%, followed by Germany and Spain (~13% each), Italy (~11%) and the UK (~9%).

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