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Minister Smith addresses EU Farm Council on the future of the CAP

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Brendan Smith TD today highlighted the importance of supporting and stabilising farm incomes in the future CAP. "This is necessary to underpin farming activity and therefore security of food supply. It will also support the viability of family farms, which are the essential platform for the production of environmental and other 'public goods' in most European countries", said Minister Smith.

The Minister was speaking at a meeting of Agriculture Ministers, organised by the Belgian Presidency and devoted to a debate on the future of the CAP after 2013. Minister Smith said that his strong view is that direct payments, decoupled from production are essential to provide a reasonable and stable income for farmers, taking into account the volatility of the market. "We need farmers to continue to produce to satisfy our food supply needs.  They need to be able to do so in an environmentally sustainable manner. Direct payments form a vitally important role in supporting and stabilising our farmers' incomes and in rewarding them for the environmental and other benefits which they produce".

The Minister also referred to the important link between the income stabilisation role of direct payments and the market stabilisation role of our current market management measures. "We must retain the capacity and flexibility to react promptly and effectively to extreme market instability and price volatility. The current mechanisms should remain in place, and we should allow ourselves the scope to adjust them as necessary to meet future requirements. We should also consider additional measures to address the increased volatility expected in the future, but these should be optional for each member state".

Turning to rural development, the Minister said that the core purpose of rural development policy is to support farmers in developing their productive capacity while securing the environment and ensuring the well-being of the wider rural society. "In pillar two we should focus on competitiveness and innovation through appropriate measures, including support for farm investment, and we should promote sustainability, in all its dimensions, by rewarding farmers for the public goods they produce". The Minister noted that this focus on competitiveness and sustainability at EU level was very much in line with the strategy for the future of the Irish agri-food sector set out in the recently launched Food Harvest 2020 report.

Minister Smith called for continued flexibility in the rural development programme as evidenced by the current menu approach and the multi-annual framework.  He also called for relaxation of the rigid balance between the three 'axes' in the current Regulation, so that Member States have greater discretion to choose the most appropriate mechanisms to address their specific circumstances.  The Minister warned of the dangers of re-nationalisation of the CAP.  "We must ensure that our future agriculture policy retains its common and unified approach. In that respect I would be opposed to any attempts to extend co-financing or to moving elements of pillar two funding to other budget headings. I believe that this would inevitably result in diminished support for agriculture and wider rural areas".

Minister Smith also used the opportunity provided by this special agriculture council meeting to have a number of informal discussions with his EU ministerial colleagues, he has already had a number of in-depth bilateral meetings earlier in the year on the future of the CAP and will continue this programme with the forthcoming visits to Ireland next month of the French and German ministers. He said the timing of the Commissioner's visit to Ireland later this month was also crucial - being a month or so before the Commissioner publishes his paper on the CAP post 2013.

Date Released: 21 September 2010