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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Wales charts course towards radically different farm policy

Wales is one of the three devolved government regions which along with England make up the four countries in the UK. Its agricultural sector is, in absolute terms, small. Around 38,400 holdings farm an area of 1.9 million hectares, with an average farm size of 49 hectares. Just over 15,000 of these holdings receive support under Pillar 1 of the CAP as many of them are deemed to be ‘very small’ with insignificant agricultural activity. These farms produce output valued at £1.6 billion in 2017, contributing a gross value added of €457 million and a total income from farming (TIFF) of £276 million in that year (statistics taken from Wales Statistics and Research, Farming Facts and Figures, Wales 2018 and the Aggregate agricultural output and income web page).

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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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Commission assaults rural development spending to protect direct payments

Please note that the key chart in this post (the third chart, comparing the CAP ceiling in 2027 with that in 2020, has been updated using Commission figures in this post.

The Commission’s MFF proposal (including both ceilings for expenditure as well as ideas on how to finance the budget) was published yesterday. The Commission claims that the proposal includes reductions of roughly 5% in both the Common Agricultural Policy and Cohesion Policy programmes, as they have the largest financial envelopes. However, another way of looking at the numbers suggests that the cut is more like 15% overall in real terms over the period of the next MFF, but with a much bigger cut in Pillar 2 rural development expenditure of around 26%.

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A Tale of Two Policy Documents: DEFRA vs. Commission Communication

The Commission published its Communication The future of food and farming in November 2017 following an extensive public consultation process. Legislative proposals accompanied by an impact assessment are expected at the end of May. At the same time, the UK is preparing for life after Brexit. To this end, the UK Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) published a Command Paper (consultation document) on February 27 seeking views on a future post-Brexit agricultural policy. The paper provides a clear direction of travel for UK, or at least, England’s future agricultural policy, and will result in a White Paper and legislation in the form of an Agricultural Bill later in this parliamentary session.

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Brakes removed from voluntary coupled support

I have previously written about the provisions for voluntary coupled support (VCS) in the 2013 CAP reform package in this blog post in 2015 entitled “Two steps forward, one step back: coupled payments in the CAP”. That post gives a historical overview of the gradual phasing out of coupled payments during the 2000s and the reversal of this process in the 2013 reform. In the recently-agreed Omnibus Agricultural Provisions Regulation (EU) 2017/2393, a significant relaxation of the conditions that Member States must meet in gaining approval for their VCS schemes was introduced. The negotiating history of this amendment is particularly opaque and sheds an interesting light on the secrecy and non-transparency of the trilogue process in which the Council and European Parliament, as co-legislators, try to reach agreement on legislative proposals.

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Rethinking EU budget spending on agriculture in the next MFF

This post reproduces my key-note statement to the session More efficient use of scarce financial resources – An efficient Common Agriculture Policy and focussed structural Funds at the European Political Strategy Centre High Level Conference ‘Shaping our Future: Designing the next Multiannual Financial Framework’ which was held 8-9 January 2018 in Brussels. The delivered version was slightly abbreviated for time reasons.

The session was intended to reflect on more efficient use of scarce financial resources in the EU budget’s two largest spending categories – agricultural policy and structural funds. I expected my fellow panellists to have a lot to say about structural funds, so my presentation focused on agricultural policy.

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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.
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