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Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements

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Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements

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Common Agricultural Policy Reform: Statements

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Deputy Willie Penrose

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Willie Penrose

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Snippet Contents:

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to discuss the CAP reform proposals in advance of the Council meeting next week. I advise the Minister that this is a time to be brave and inspired and it is our time to give him our support. We need him to do something which it must be fairly recognised he cannot do on his own, as he will need to bring his 26 member state ministerial colleagues with him, together with the European Parliament in the co-decision process.
The critical phase has been reached. The noble objective is to do what is right and proper for the greater good, the common good, for the multitude of farmers. It is critical that the Minister should not allow himself to become the prisoner or, indeed, erstwhile mouth-piece of the powerful, articulate end of the farming lobby which seems hell-bent on protecting what they have, the status quo. The Minister's hour is fast approaching. From my many conversations with ordinary farmers I know that is how the Minister will be judged. The current system is clearly in need of reform as it is greatly flawed and highly inequitable.
This debate is significant as talks intensify in the next few days concerning the budget. The Minister has done a deal of work to bring it to this stage. The size of the budget and the agricultural envelope is now evident. It is important to keep in mind - many people seem to have gone astray in this regard - the origins of the policy which focused on the cheap supply of quality food for the 500 million citizens of the European Union and those further afield. A central tenet of the policy was to keep the maximum number of farmers on the land earning a living by achieving a viable income. There is now a narrow window of opportunity for the Minister, in his role as president, to conclude the CAP reform deal by June 2013. It is in the interest of Irish farmers that he does so.
I recall an initial proposal to cut the CAP spending budget by €25 billion over six years and after some intensive and successful negotiations, which we should acknowledge were spearheaded by the French, the Spanish and the Irish Government, this spending cut has been substantially reduced. We acknowledge the Minister's role to the fore in helping to reduce the size of the reduction which was achieved.
More needs to be done in recognition of the fact that the agricultural industry plays a vital and pivotal role in the economy. It supports 300,000 jobs as well as a large number of businesses in the rural economy. It provides the raw material for export earnings of €9 billion. It is in this context that securing the maximum amount of payment for the single farm payment and rural development schemes is paramount, approximating to just slightly less than €1.2 billion for the single farm payment under Pillar 1 and €350 million for the rural development scheme under the aegis of Pillar 2 - which is extremely important and seems to have been lost from the equation.
The thrust of these schemes was to promote the viability of farming activity so as to secure the maximum number of farmers on the land. That focus should not be overlooked. It is notable that some of our farming organisations - who represent the very well-off and the big farmers - appear to overlook this important objective. It is in this context that the Commission plan for the CAP reform was introduced. It is against that background that the planned flat rate system of payment per hectare at national and regional level by 2020 has been discussed. The likely impact of such proposals has been well ventilated and examined.
I fully support the proposal that these payments are targeted at active farmers and that they should pay special recognition to the particular position of young farmers. It is clear that the historic method and model of paying farmers based on the past production levels of 2000 and 2002 would be jettisoned in Ireland's case. The debate continues to centre on how this system will be replaced and over what time period this will occur. Unlike England and Germany, Ireland, in common with 16 other member states, did not opt for the flat rate system linked to land, which was introduced in 2003. However, change in on the way. It is anticipated there will likely be a significant transition period to enable farmers to adapt to changed circumstances under the proposal. These proposals are not finalised; the Minister has indicated that much discussion has yet to take place. It must be seen what will emerge in the final agreement. It is very clear that farmers who currently have very high per hectare payments will see these reduced and rightly so. How can payments of €200,000, at €4,000 a week, be justified when others are getting nothing?