FOR in the past few weeks, most of the talk in relation to Brexit has been about its implications for the border between Northern Ireland and the proper commitment on a ‘backstop’ solution that the Irish government is rightly demanding of the British relating to it, albeit without much success. However, there is very little being spoken about the implications for agriculture right across the European Union that Brexit is causing.
The overall EU budget will be cut because the British contribution to it will no longer be available after their departure. Farmers in Ireland are already suffering as a result of Brexit, but the reality will be worse after it happens with talks of a €12bn cut in the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) budget for 2021 to 2027 if the shortfall of Britain’s contribution to it is not found somewhere else.
So far, the remaining EU members are nor queuing up to bridge that shortfall, but the Irish government is making representations to try to redress this situation. Irish farming organisations and others across the EU will be putting pressure on their respective agriculture ministers to lobby for the cuts to be reversed, with IFA president Joe Healy having described them as ‘a major threat to farming in Ireland’ and warning that they ‘must be strongly resisted.’
He regards it as unacceptable that any cut is even being contemplated when farmers are already struggling on low incomes. Being asked to do more under CAP proposals for a lesser amount in direct payments is clearly unacceptable and needs to be addressed.
A key figure in what happens will be European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs Phil Hogan, who implied recently that the proposed €12bn cut was only an opening gambit. This would seem to indicate that there is room for negotiation on the matter, but even a compromise on the size of the budget cut would still leave farmers short of EU income, which in some sectors is crucial to their very viability.
The IFA contends that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar must insist on an increased budget to take account of inflation and the cost of any additional measures imposed on farmers. Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed has been working on building alliances with like-minded counterparts across the EU to try to have the CAP budget shortfall met, so that farmers will not lose out on an estimated 4% of their incomes as the current proposal would mean.
Pointing out that all sectors have shared in the economic revival, yet farmers have had their direct payments eroded by inflation, Joe Healy said the proposals on the budget from the Commission are a not a ‘fair’ outcome and farmers would see through any attempt to put a spin on the situation, adding that they are ‘unacceptable and must be rejected.’
What farmers actually want is an increase in the CAP budget in line with inflation. This was echoed by ICSA president Patrick Kent, who also warned that the 5% budget cut proposal translates into a severe watering down of the Rural Development Programme for the 2021-2027 period: ‘This means less agri-environment schemes, less farm development and potentially a devastating cut to the ANC payment.’
Speaking after one of his bi-lateral meetings with EU member-state counterparts, Minister Creed came down very much on the side of the farmers. While acknowledging that the decision of Britain to leave the EU will result in ‘significant budgetary challenges’ during the next financial framework, he said he was convinced that we have to protect the CAP budget, if we are serious about preserving the family farm model that is central to the European project.
He also reiterated his belief that the Common Agricultural Policy is ‘the most successful policy of the European project.’ However, the agriculture ministers will be up against it as they try to get the proposed CAP cuts proposal thrown out, because the EU’s Budget Commissioner, Gunther Oettinger, seems determined to defend and protect the overall budgetary framework he outlined last month, taking into account the economic reality Britain’s departure will inevitably bring about, adversely affecting most sectors across the board and there will be many other competing budgetary demands.
There is a long and bumpy road ahead for the agricultural sector, but farmers are well capable of effective lobbying to support their cause.