Capping direct payments – a modest proposal

DG AGRI has published its latest breakdown of the distribution of direct payments in financial year (FY) 2017, which refers to payments made to farmers in the claim year (CY) 2016. The report itself has less text than usual, but lots of graphs showing the distributions of payments and recipients for the EU28 and by country. The detailed tables showing the numbers behind these graphs are given in the statistical annex.

A couple of points are worth remarking. The tables distinguish between the distribution of decoupled payments, other direct payments and total direct payments. The decoupled payments include the basic payment, greening payment, redistributive payment, young farmers’ payment, and the payment to areas facing natural constraints in Pillar 1.

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The redistributive payment is more effective at redistribution

Capping of direct payments is not the only instrument proposed by the Commission to allocate more support to small and medium-sized farms. In addition to a mandatory ‘basic income support for sustainability’, the Commission CAP proposal would also require Member States to introduce a ‘complementary redistributive income support for sustainability’. This redistributive payment is currently voluntary under the 2014-2020 CAP.

Under the current CAP, the redistributive payment is applied by 9 Member States: BE-Wallonia, BG, DE, FR, HR, LT, PL, RO and UK-Wales. The financial allocation to the scheme takes up from 0.5% to 15% of the Member States national ceiling for direct payments.

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More on capping direct payments

I want to revert to the topic of the capping of direct payments under the CAP, which I last discussed here and here. It is not the most important issue in the Commission’s legislative proposals for the CAP after 2020. But the issue of the fairness of direct payments was raised as an issue in the CAP Communication, and the proposed capping has been defended as a significant step in the better targeting of these payments. There is thus some interest in asking how effective it is likely to be.

The current situation

The current situation reflecting the distribution of payments in claim year 2015 is shown in the following graph.

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Why capping will be a mirage

Commissioner Hogan confirmed in his press conference folllowing the publication of the Commission’s proposal on the next Multi-annual Financial Framework that the Commission intends to introduce a cap of €60,000 on the maximum amount of direct payments any holding can receive in the next CAP legislative period. Commission President Juncker is reported as telling the Belgian Parliament earlier this week that “the European Commission will propose a €60,000 limit on individual direct payments to support small farm holdings instead of ‘agricultural factories’”. These statements are misleading and disingenuous, because they ignore what is likely to be the fine-print in the Commission proposal.

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How Member States are implementing the new CAP

All the focus last week was on the publication of the Commission Communication on the Future of Food and Farming. This document has been greeted with both curiosity (concerning the potential of the proposed new mode of delivery and governance to deliver both simplification of the CAP as well as improved targeting and results on the ground) and criticism (from farm groups worried that it eliminates the ‘common’ in the Common Agricultural Policy and environmental groups worried that it could facilitate the continued transfer of a large chunk of the EU budget to farmers with no questions asked). It will take some time to tease out its full implications, and this is something I will return to on this blog in the future.… Read the rest

Does capping direct payments make sense?

CAP Pillar 1 direct payments were originally introduced to compensate farmers for the reduction in intervention support prices following the MacSharry reforms in 1994. This was an important and necessary step to help farmers adjust to a new economic situation. However, assistance for adjustment should only be temporary. As the years have passed, the argument that direct payments are intended as compensation payments has become less and less credible. As result, a number of alternative rationales for the continuation of Pillar 1 direct payments have been proposed.
These payments are variously justified as addressing low farm incomes, as a necessary support for EU food security, as providing a safety net for farmers against unexpected market shocks, as compensating for higher regulatory standards and as ensuring more sustainable management of natural resources.… Read the rest

Eurobarometer on CAP reform

A new Eurobarometer public opinion poll shows widespread support among European citizens for the Commission’s main CAP reform proposals. The poll, conducted by TNS Opinion and Social, interviewed 26,713 adults, enough for a representative sample in each member state.

The first question, concerning setting a cap on the amount of aid to the largest farms found that 47% of respondents favour a limit while 28% opposed a limit. 15 per cent didn’t know. Support for capping was strongest in Cyprus (+54%), Denmark (+36%), Finland (+33%) and Sweden (29%). Malta was the only country where more people thought a limit was a bad thing (-20%).

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