There has been considerable disquiet from UK farming unions following reports that UK negotiators in Brussels are trying to give Member States the power to cut CAP direct payments by up to 20 per cent through a system which would replace voluntary modulation (in the 2014-2020 CAP regime). If the current draft regulations were approved, Member States would have the facility to move 10% of the direct payments budget to the rural development budget. News that UK negotiators are seeking to increase this percentage suggests that Defra would like to move more of its direct payments budget to rural development, given the small RD budget. It should be noted, however, that even if this provision were implemented it would be for the Scottish Government to decide on whether or not to use it and that the Scottish Government’s position at present is that it would prefer not to use this sort of tool to move money between budgets: Scottish Government is focusing on trying to get a better budget for rural development to begin with.
Recent meetings in Brussels attended by Andrew Midgley would suggest, however, that we should not hold out great hopes for a large increase in the rural development budget. European Commission staff stated clearly that drastic changes are simply not politically realistic. Any increase in one Member State budget must come through a cut elsewhere and that will be unpopular (but this should not stop our representatives fighting our corner to their utmost).
The Commission have referred to how rural development budgets will be based on objective criteria and past performance, but have not clarified how these will be weighted and when the decisions will be made. The first hurdle is the agreement of the overall EU budget, which could be delayed until later this year or early next year. And so we will not have clarity on the rural development budget in the UK for some time.