New proposals from European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, on simplification measures for agriculture, have been given a general welcome, though it has been claimed by an Irish MEP that they do not go far enough.
'Going in the right direction' – IFA
Irish Farmers' Association (IFA) deputy president, Tim O'Leary, said that simplification allowing for preventive preliminary cross checks on area aid applications, simplification of the system of administrative penalties and a yellow card system for first offenders with reduced penalties were positive and going in the right direction. He said this will reduce penalties and the unnecessary stress burden on farmers. Simplification and reducing penalties was one of the very first issues IFA raised with Phil Hogan when he became Commissioner, according to the IFA.
Mr O'Leary said that, under the preliminary checks of aid applications, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) will be able to identify problems with applications so that, during a period of up to 35 days after the final date of submission, farmers will be allowed to make corrections to their aid applications without any penalties. He said it is very important that DAFM provides this service to farmers this year, as it would undoubtedly reduce errors and penalties.
Commissioner Hogan has also announced that he will introduce a simplified system of administrative penalties for 2016 for direct payment schemes. He said the current system calculates penalties which can result in fines of more than double that which is over-declared. This will be replaced with a simple penalty of 1.5 times the area over-declared. Small over-declarations that are up to 3 per cent of the area declared, or two hectares, will not be penalised.
Mr O'Leary said Commissioner Hogan has also announced a yellow card system for first offenders, where the over-declaration is minor (below 10 per cent of the area declared) with a reduced penalty of 50 per cent. The Commissioner pointed out that these farmers will be subject to an on-the-spot inspection the following year.
'Still inadequate' – MEP
Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has said that while the announced simplification of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) measures is a step in the right direction, they are still inadequate and has called on Commissioner Hogan to follow his statements with 'real action'.
"In Ireland in 2014, 10,000 farmers were hit with penalties such that €3.3m was deducted from Single Farm Payments and €1.1m from Disadvantaged Area Scheme payments," Mr Carthy said. "This is money that was taken out of farm family's pockets and out of local economies. In many cases, farmers were unaware that they had done anything wrong.
"It is welcome, then, that some simplification measures have been announced for the first half of 2016 that primarily relate to penalty systems in place.
"New measures to reduce penalties include preliminary checks on aid applications and the 'yellow card' system for first offenders. These are welcome and will hopefully cut the administrative penalty in half when the over-declaration is minor.
"But, reducing administrative burdens for farmers is crucial in any changes to the current legislation, as unintentional mistakes often lead to penalties and reductions in income support.
"Simplification proposals also promise a reduction of inspections, which, if they transpire, will be a welcome development as the current system was causing undue stress and fear for farmers. Under the new system, farmers should only be subject to an inspection after having received a 'yellow-card' as a first time offender. The real test of these measures will be how the DAFM officials interpret and implement the new system. I, for one, will be monitoring this closely.
"I have been calling for an introduction of simplification measures for farmers consistently and, while certain aspects of the Commissioner's proposals are to be welcomed, they do not go far enough in terms of a better and fair deal for our farmers. If Commissioner Hogan is to deliver on his promises, he needs to deliver real simplification measures, not just on a technical level but with regards to policy also," Mr Carthy said.