Last week saw EUR 64 billion lopped from a headline budget figure for the CAP. This leaves a provisional total of EUR 363 billion, comprising EUR 278bn for Pillar I and EUR 85bn Pillar II. Scottish MEP Alyn Smith expresses cautious optimism over the future of support for Scotland’s agriculture, anticipating: “…a slight uplift to Scotland’s direct payments, as the UK is below the EU average.”
Last Friday afternoon, this Scottish member of the European parliament’ s agriculture committee told ARC that this mitigating factor is: “ …nothing like as great as if Scotland was an independent member state, due to our very low share of payments.” The basis for his view is a provision in the last draft of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) that “…no Member State should be left with direct payments of below 196 EUR per hectare by 2020.”
Scottish Government figures put direct payments at 130 EUR per hectare, on an estimated eligible land area of 4.6 million hectares. “This formula would give Scotland about 300m EUR extra in direct payments by 2020,” Smith explains. However, this will need a successful Yes vote for independence, too, since: “…we aren’t a Member State, so this does not apply to Scotland presently,” he added.
Smith is glad of the role the Irish presidency played in helping the meeting to reach a conclusion: “I’ll confess I thought things were a lot further apart than they evidently were, good on the Irish for brokering a deal. I suspect few others could have managed.” There is a certain relief as to where the cuts are expected to fall: “The cuts, such as they are, are largely to the budgets that are essentially proposals rather than existing budget lines.” This he reckons, is survivable: “On balance, I think we can live with this, not least because a lot of the convergence issues across and within Member States have yet to be worked out.”
But it is still too early to relax: “Clearly, there is still a lot of water to go under the bridge on this yet but the fact a deal has been done gives us a lot more clarity than I had thought we would see this weekend.”
Smith is prepared to resist the inevitable budgetary inertia when the European Union discusses spending plans, particularly in times of austerity: “I’ve long said that there is ample scope for the EU budget to work a bit harder, and it should not be immune from austerity at a time when all other budgets in Council chambers and national Parliaments the length of Europe are under pressure.” This week Smith will be on the platform at the NFU Scotland AGM, alongside UK farm minister Owen Paterson and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond for a national political debate on the CAP at the NFU Scotland AGM.
Announcing the event at Saint Andrews, NFUS chief executive Scott Walker “…now is the time to ensure politicians are onside to deliver for Scottish farming.” It promises to be a lively exchange.