FARM Ministers gathered in Brussels this week for the usual monthly meeting.
Following the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13th, there was heightened security around the EU institutions, with a bomb scare on a nearby street at around midday. At the gathering, Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan unveiled a further package of technical changes to rules for implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Under the plans, Irish farmers will be subject to less on-the-spot controls in 2016 and they will have the possibility to submit ‘collective claims’ for agri-environment and climate measures under rural development programmes. Describing CAP simplification as one of the ‘key political priorities’ during his mandate, he said it was an ‘ongoing process’ with ‘no big bang, but rather a series of announcements.’
Addressing the chamber, the Irish Commissioner announced a reduction in the level of on-the-spot checks for 2016, allowing national administrations to implement a more targeted and risk-based approach to controls ‘where they will have the greatest effect.’ Where overall error rates are below 2%, it will be possible to reduce on-farm controls from 5% to only 1% of the sample size. This would relieve the administrative burden on farmers and national administrations alike, Hogan added.
He also presented the option of “preventive preliminary checks” as part of the aid application process. Under the new rules, national administrations would identify problems with farmers’ applications, allowing them to provide corrections without any fines or disallowances, up to 35 days after the final date of submission. The preliminary check system would allow a better management of CAP funds and deal with a situation “where honest mistakes are made”, DG AGRI officials outline. The measures – applicable from next year - are expected to be formally adopted by the Commission by mid-December.
On the way out of the press conference on Monday evening, I was chatting to the Commissioner and he is looking well after his short medical procedure at the end of last month. He was telling me about his ‘diplomatic offensive’ to assist European food exporters tap into emerging markets, with trade missions planned for Mexico-Columbia in February 2016, China-Japan (April 2016) and Vietnam-Indonesia in the second half of next year. But, later this month, he will be paying a visit to the Carbery Group in Ballineen. The dairy facility processes around 400 million litres of milk per annum to produce award-winning cheeses and food ingredients.
With this year’s Irish Dairy Council and Kerrygold overall national prize for ‘Best Quality Milk in Ireland’ recently awarded to Kieran and Catherine O’Sullivan from Dunmanus (Drinagh Co-Op suppliers) – no doubt ‘Big Phil’ is going to return with a positive impression of West Cork farming.
•Rose O’Donovan is the Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu