During his visit to Brussels this week Richard Lochhead sought clarification on the level of coupled support in Scotland under the new CAP regime and received the green light to potentially increase the level of support.
Under the new rules Scotland is allowed to allocate up to 8% of its national ceiling to coupled support, but Mr Lochhead, listening to the concerns about the impact of the move to area payments in the beef sector has been looking for ways on increasing this level.
One potential mechanism works on the basis that from the perspective of the EU the Member State is the UK, and given that other parts of the UK have stated their intention of not utilising coupled support there is a gap between what the UK could utilise and what it will utilise given that only Scotland will be doing so. This raises the possibility of Scotland using the allocation of those parts of the UK not utilising coupled support (but covering the budget under the Scottish national ceiling i.e. it doesn’t mean any more money for Scotland; it just means that Scotland could use more of its budget on coupled support because it would be using the UK’s allowance rather than just Scotland’s).
The Scottish Government will now seek urgent confirmation from the UK Government on how much additional coupled support Scotland will be permitted to use, with 13% being the amount requested by Mr Lochhead in a recent letter to DEFRA Minister Owen Paterson.
Speaking immediately after the meeting, Mr Lochhead said: “I am delighted that the Commissioner has given the green light to flexibility within the Member State on coupled payments thereby confirming what we understood to be the case. The UK allowing increased coupled support in Scotland will make a huge difference to our beef farmers in particular, and I have already written to the UK Government requesting that the option to increase coupled support to 13% be made available to us. UK Ministers have already committed to increasing our ceiling on coupled support and now we need them to come good on their promise. However, we must remember that giving Scotland the option to increase our coupled support will not cost the rest of the UK a penny as it only allows us greater flexibility in how we use our own budgets. I will be following this up urgently to get confirmation from the UK now we know the EU is on side.”