As the crucial EU budget discussions approach later in November, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has written this week to the UK Government demanding that Scotland's poor budget allocations are made a negotiating priority. As the CAP negotiations reach a crucial stage, Mr Lochhead is concerned that without the UK spending negotiating capital on improving Scotland's budget allocations, we will be left with the lowest levels of payments in the EU under each of the policy's two pillars.
Mr Lochhead has pointed to figures which show that other countries already do far better out of the CAP than Scotland. For instance, Ireland receives more than twice as much in direct payments as Scotland even though it’s a similar country. The Czech Republic, which has less farmland than Scotland, also receives far more than Scotland.
The CAP budget is due to be set at the European Council on November 22 and 23. Scotland, like the other devolved administrations, will not be present at the crucial talks where Prime Minister David Cameron will be representing the UK. Currently, the UK Government is pressing for the overall CAP budget to be reduced while the Scottish Government argues that, in a fair system, Scotland should see an increase in direct payments and rural development funds given the challenges faced by Scottish farmers.
Mr Lochhead said: “These are crucial times for Europe’s farmers with the budget for the future CAP due to be set in a matter of weeks. I have always said that what I want to see is a fair deal for Scotland’s farmers, something that has not been delivered in the past. The existing system lacks fairness and has left Scotland short-changed both in terms of direct payments under Pillar 1 and rural development funding under Pillar 2. Political deals created the current unsatisfactory budget arrangements and political deals can put them right. The question is - are UK Ministers willing to strike deals for Scotland? There is no sign of that, so far.”
George Lyon MEP has, however, called for UK unity on CAP reform and called on all politicians to avoid using agriculture as a political football. He has stressed that the Scottish and UK Governments have to work together and that there is a danger that Scottish farmers will lose out if CAP reform becomes part of the ongoing debate about independence.
Douglas McAdam, CEO of Scottish Land & Estates said: “These negotiations are absolutely critical for Scottish farming and we want to see a better settlement for Scotland and for our members. We need the UK Ministers to be fighting for a fair deal for all UK farmers and urge them to work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure that Scottish interests are not overlooked. Whatever the outcome on the budget in the EU, we need a fair allocation within the UK”.