Thursday, 13 July 2023
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
Common Agricultural Policy
3. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will confirm if he sought a higher funding allocation under the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, as part of the EU multi-annual financial framework, MFF, mid-term review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [34634/23]
Will the Minister confirm whether he sought a higher funding allocation under the Common Agricultural Policy as part of the EU multi-annual financial framework, MFF, mid-term review and make a statement on the matter?
I thank the Deputy. I take it he is referring to the mid-term review of the European Union's 2021-2027 MFF, as it is the financial framework that sets the funding allocations across the various headings of the EU budget, including the Common Agricultural Policy. Last month the Commission published its proposals for a limited and targeted revision of the 2021-2027 MFF, which is the overall budget for all European Union spending. Ireland's response to the proposed targeted review is let by the Departments of Foreign Affairs and Finance in close co-ordination with the Department of the Taoiseach. The review is quite limited and restricted to a number of specific policy challenges, notably the EU supports for the Ukrainian Government, migration and expected higher interest payments on the EU’s debt. The budget for the Common Agriculture Policy does not form part of the Commission’s proposed amendments in this midterm review exercise. Nor does the latter include the other large spending area of cohesion. The Government engaged with the Commission both before and after the publication of these proposals. Among our priorities, we stressed to the Commission the need to ensure the hard-fought funding provisions for the Common Agricultural Policy are protected and that there should be no proposals to divert CAP funding to other spending headings. I am glad this is reflected in the Commission’s proposals, but I and my officials will remain vigilant as the review is negotiated by the EU’s General Affairs Council in the months ahead.
We are in a five-year CAP programme now. Entitlement values within Pillar 1, for example, are set in stone until the end of 2027. We are rolling all the Pillar 2 payments and all the various schemes out at the moment. Most of them are five-year contracts. The Government has delivered a 50% increase in our national funding contribution to Pillar 2 and to CAP to ensure those schemes can be massively strong. An example of that is the new suckler scheme, where cows are being paid at a rate of €150 a head for the first 23 compared with €90 a head for the first ten, which was the case until last December. That is a commitment we have and one we will look to continue to back.
I thank the Minister for his response. We accept that while the current CAP is higher than before, he must realise that in real terms it is substantially reduced as Irish farmers are dealing with rising costs of doing business while at the same time being expected to do more with their payments. The CAP was brought in for food production first, but at this stage it has been eaten up by green issues and climate change. The amount of bureaucracy and red tape piled onto farmers now means they are doing more work for more or less the same money.
It would not have been an issue if the Government had listened to the Opposition. Sinn Féin previously called for a higher CAP allocation the Government failed to secure.
While the current CAP is higher, we are not getting the same bang for our buck from the money. The Minister was given a means to address that back in January when the EU Agriculture Commissioner said he would support a higher CAP budget under the multi-annual financial framework, MMF, review. So far there has been very little reporting on the terms of the review, which commenced in June. We want to see an update from the Minister on whether he sought a higher CAP allocation.
The mid-term review is not a capital review; it is a review across the EU budget and it is quite narrow in relation to the items it identifies. We fought hard at the start, when the multi-annual financial framework was negotiated and published, to make sure we could push it to be as high as it could possibly be. We were one of the countries pushing for a higher CAP budget. There was lots of downward pressure on it and we were advocating and pushing to try to get it higher. There is no doubt there has been pressure on the CAP budget at European level over subsequent CAP negotiations. That is something we have continuously resisted. My sense of it is that if we were to reopen the multi-annual financial framework in relation to CAP in particular, I would not see that as being to our benefit, because there would be lots of pressure on to use that funding for other things rather than to put more into it. That was our experience when it was negotiated the first time, when we pushed back very hard. I want to see that CAP budget protected and increased. We have worked here at national level, where we have the full competency. We are one of 27 member states and we have to fight with all of them at European level, but at national level we have delivered a 50% increase in funding to CAP-----
I accept what the Aire is saying, but could he tell us what was the result of the extra push when he sought the extra money? Earlier in the year, the agriculture committee in Europe said that given the rate of inflation that tens of billions of euro were effectively wiped off CAP. This affects every farmer in the country. The Minister has a duty of care to represent them and to get the highest allocation possible under CAP. The Minister said he pushed for extra funding. Could he tell us how much extra he received or if he got any extra? What negotiations went on?
The Minister has an obligation to ensure that CAP funding is secure so that it supports our family farms, because they are the main part of our rural communities. They supply and feed massively into what way this country is run.
The original proposal, when the multi-annual financial framework was being negotiated at European level a couple of years ago, was for a cut in CAP. As Taoiseach at the time, Deputy Micheál Martin, pushed back massively, because of the importance of agriculture in our country. It is not the same in other countries in Europe, but it is for us. We were one of the countries to the forefront in pushing that back to seek to get the CAP budget maintained. That was a massive fight and a massive battle and it went to the very wire to maintain it. That is the battle we have when there are 27 member states, when there is competition for those funds. Were we to reopen it, the battle would recommence. I can assure Deputy Browne we would be in a minority in relation to those looking to increase the CAP budget because everybody would be looking to get a bite out of it. We will not have that. However, where we have capacity and where we stand on our own is when we come back here, having negotiated as strongly as we can at European level with the other 27 member states, then we can decide our own national budget and what we bring to the table in relation to national taxpayer funding. We delivered the highest ever increase in the national contribution to CAP, between CAP programmes this time around, with a 50% increase in CAP from the last one. For example, ACRES is up by 50%; I just mentioned the suckler cow scheme; and organics are up by four or five times. That is what this Government has delivered.