CAP budget cuts would spell disaster for rural Ireland – Brendan Smith TD

Fianna Fáil TD for Cavan-Monaghan Brendan Smith is warning Minister Michael Creed that any cut to the CAP budget will have a devastating impact on small family farmers.  Budget discussions are due to begin shortly to address the expected shortfall arising out of Britain’s decision to leave the EU.

Deputy Smith raised the issue with the Agriculture Minister in the Dáil earlier this week.

“CAP payments are critical to the livelihoods of hundreds of farmers across Cavan, Monaghan and the wider rural community.  This funding is support our agrifood sector and is a key driver of economic activity throughout the country.

“We need to get the message out that CAP is not just critical for farmers but that it is good for consumers and the environment as well. We want to get away from the lazy narrative that CAP is a transfer of funds to farmers. It is not. It is of huge importance for the environment, for consumers and for the agrifood industry.

“Any reduction in the CAP budget would have serious implications for Irish farmers.  It’s expected that Brexit will result in a €3bn shortfall once the UK stops paying into the fund.  That money must be replenished.  Extra funding must be raised through additional payments by the remaining 27 EU countries.

“CAP is critically important to ensure the secure supply of safe food for citizens across Europe.  Despite its success, funding in recent years has been reduced.  We cannot allow that to happen again.  Minister Creed has a responsibility to protect Irish farmers – he will have to work even harder to build stronger alliances to secure additional funding from our European counterparts”.


Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

35. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if indications have been given at the EU Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers in relation to funding level for CAP post 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7113/18]

Deputy Brendan Smith: Ireland must send out a clear message it cannot countenance any reduction in the CAP budget post 2020. We all know CAP is of critical importance to farmers through direct payments. We also know those compensatory payments support our agrifood sector which has 174,000 people employed throughout the country. It is a key driver of economic activity throughout the country.

We need to get the message out that CAP is not just critical for farmers but that it is good for consumers and the environment as well. We want to get away from the lazy narrative that CAP is a transfer of funds to farmers. It is not. It is of huge importance for the environment, for consumers and for the agrifood sector.

Deputy Michael Creed: I thank Deputy Smith for his question. The future of CAP is an issue of enormous importance for the European and Irish agrifood sectors. The CAP has demonstrated its capacity to evolve effectively in response to changing market, consumer and environmental demands in recent years, to the point where it now plays a central role in delivering the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth sought under the Europe 2020 strategy.

The European Commission published its communication on the future of food and farming on 29 November 2017. It proposes a simpler CAP, with significantly more flexibility for member states, and a sharper focus on objectives and results, particularly in the environmental area. The communication covers many of the key issues and challenges for CAP post 2020.

However, the communication does not pre-empt the outcome of the multi-annual financial framework for the period 2020 to 2027. Initial proposals on this are expected to be published in May 2018. While no figures have been published at this point, the budget Commissioner, Mr. Oettinger, has indicated he sees future budgetary requirements being funded by a combination of additional contributions from member states and cuts in existing areas, including CAP. I recognise there will be pressure on the CAP budget post 2020, both as a result of the impact of Brexit and because of emerging funding priorities in areas such as security and migration. Nonetheless, I will continue to argue that a strong CAP budget is more important than ever against the background of Brexit and having regard to increasing global population and demand for food.

Of course ultimately the CAP is funded by taxpayers across EU member states. It is critically important against that background to reinforce the legitimacy and importance of the CAP, and its role in achieving European priorities and objectives in areas such as employment creation and retention, food security, food safety and quality, the protection and enhancement of the environment, the development of the rural economy and the prevention of land abandonment and rural depopulation.

I assure the Deputy that Ireland will continue to do that, and to work with other member states and the Commission to ensure that the CAP continues to be funded appropriately from 2020 onwards.

Deputy Brendan Smith: Will the Minister outline what work is under way in maintaining and growing the strong alliances with like-minded member states that were there over the years and decades in protecting CAP and its budget. The Minister referred to the budget Commissioner’s comments in respect of the multi-annual financial framework. Some detail will be available in May of this year. He also referred to the fact that at least 30% of the overall EU budget would be for CAP.

If that was realised, it would be of very serious concern to us. The budget from 2014 to 2020 is between 38% and 40% of the overall EU budget. In 2016, I think it was 38% of the total budget and by 2020 it is expected to be at 34%. For the budget Commissioner to state, even at this early stage, that it could be down to 30% has to be a source of concern to all of us who are interested in seeing CAP being protected and who realise the importance of CAP for the agrifood sector throughout Europe and for the rural economies as well.

Deputy Michael Creed: I thank Deputy Smith for his insights and analysis. We can have all of the ambition we want in respect of generational renewal and greater sustainability but if we do not have the budget, to which the Deputy referred, that is all wishful thinking. I see securing an adequate budget as the fundamental prerequisite to any of the rest. Commissioner Oettinger’s commentary on CAP and the beady eyes of other Commissioners around the table looking at the other challenges the EU faces are a cause of concern. However, the Government would say Europe faces other challenges and security and migration come to mind. They could well learn from our experience that common problems could well do with a common approach. However, that is not a reason to raise the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy which has been spectacularly successful. The public consultation showed there is continuing public support for a Common Agricultural Policy provided we embrace the bigger challenges now around sustainability. We are working hard with member states for that reason.

France has always been an ally in CAP negotiations and recent soundings from President Macron are a bit more reassuring in respect of France’s commitment to an adequately funded CAP. Recent soundings coming from the Germans have also been positive. We work closely with what might be described loosely as the older member states of the European Union in the context of these matters and we will continue to work closely with them to ensure that is resolved satisfactorily.

Deputy Brendan Smith: I would re-echo what the Minister has stated. There are new demands in the areas of defence and migration. Extra funding has to be raised to provide for those endeavours. CAP is of critical importance for a secure supply of safe food for the citizens of Europe. It has been spectacularly successful but it has been reduced. Unfortunately, the last reform of CAP was the first time the budget was reduced as a percentage of the EU budget. We cannot allow that to happen again. There are particular challenges. However, the European economy is improving and there is no reason additional funds cannot be raised across Europe for the overall EU budget. Some of the countries that joined the European Union most recently would have huge interests in agriculture as well. However, they also have a concern about defence issues. We have to bear that in mind. The

Minister will have to work even harder to build stronger alliances with the traditional countries that have always been on the same wavelength as ourselves in regard to CAP.

Deputy Michael Creed: Those states Deputy Smith mentioned would equally be adamant that now is their time for a greater or, as they would see it, a fairer share of the CAP budget. There are a lot of moving parts in this. We are certainly vigilant in the area of ensuring there is an adequate budget. The direction of travel is interesting. If we go back to the Treaty of Rome and the early 1970s, the level of the budget for the Common Agricultural Policy was in the region of 70% and above. It is down now to under 40%. I share Deputy Smith’s concern and much of his analysis as well. The most critical objective we have to meet is sustainability. I refer to not just environmental sustainability but to social and economic sustainability for the agriculture sector. An adequate budget is critical for that. We are committed to making sure that before we start talking about all the things we would like to do, that we are sure we have the money in the bag to do it.