Capping farm subsidies is on the agenda again

Leaks from Brussels suggest that capping Single Farm Payments is on the agenda for the forthcoming Health Check. This was mooted at the time of the last reform and defeated by opposition from Britain and Germany who would have lost out the most.

The last set of proposals envisaged an overall ceiling, but this time reductions would be tapered to make them more palatable. There would be a 10 per cent reduction on payments about €100,000, 25 per cent off payments above €200,000 and 45 per cent off payments above €300,000. As an additional incentive, money saved by the ‘capping’ would stay in a member state and be added on to its national envelope for targeted receipts.

There would also be a lower limit on payments to save the transaction costs of payments to owners of horse paddocks or hobby farms. These tend to gum up the payments system and are not supporting anything that resembles a commercial farming activity.

Reducing payments to large-scale farmers, some of them members of Europe’s royal and aristocratic families, would seem to be a no brainer. In a sense, however, it is penalising the more economically efficient farmers who are often better suited to compete in an international market. That being so, perhaps they should not have subsidies at all, but then no farmer should be receiving non-specific subsidies (other than a pay off in the form of a bond).

There is also a difficult technical problem. How does one define what constitutes a farm? Ownership of large estates could be subdivided among different companies. Lawyers have always been adept at spotting new loopholes in the CAP and they could be the real beneficiaries of these proposals. However, I doubt whether they would go through in the form suggested.

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