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Important CAP issues remain to be resolved

By Ewan Pate, 19 December 2013 11.30am.

The campaign to secure the best possible support package for Scottish farming has moved on from Brussels and Westminster to Edinburgh as implementation of the new CAP moves closer (see above).

It would be a mistake, however, to think that all is settled on the political front. There are at least two unresolved issues of vital importance.

The first concerns the so-called “Scottish Clause” in the CAP Reform document.

This allowed minimum stocking densities to be applied on hill land, and was seen as a vital aid to stop “slipper farming”, whereby claims could be made on totally unfarmed and inactive land.

The Scottish Clause still exists in the text, but has been deliberately neutered by the European Commission’s choice of words.

The Commission believes the clause in its original form was production linked and contravened World Trade Oganisation rules.

Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochhead has been in Brussels recently in an attempt to convince farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos that this is not the case.

Mr Lochhead was not wholly successful, but it is believed a slight change in the wording has been achieved allowing Scottish Government officials to believe that the concept of minimum stocking densities is not completely dead.

Used in combination with other measures, the officials believe slipper farming on the scale carried out in recent years would be all but impossible.

The other major battle still rumbling on concerns the internal allocation of CAP convergence funds within the UK.

Although essentially a tussle between Defra minister Owen Paterson and Mr Lochhead there is a belief the European Commission could rule Mr Paterson contradicted the EU’s policy intention by not giving Scotland the lion’s share of the 230m euro at stake.

SNP MEP Alyn Smith hosted a meeting with the European Commission, attended by John Cameron and George Milne of the National Sheep Association’s Scottish region, along with Scott Walker, chief executive of NFU Scotland. They met with Jerzy Plewa, Director General Agriculture.

After the meeting Mr Smith said: “Mr Pleva can be in no doubt at the extent of the anger across Scotland at this flatly wrongheaded decision.

“The UK government had a choice and made it against the interests of Scotland’s farmers.

“Sadly, this decision is one that is entirely the remit of the UK government to make and they have underlined, so clearly, that had we been independent representing ourselves we would have done so much better.

“Indeed, it is objective fact that with the worst outcome in the whole of the EU, we could not have done worse. The UK Government decision directly contradicted the clear policy intention of the European institutions to redistribute money through removing the link to historical references, though as the UK Government response to our parliamentary question at Westminster shows, the decision was evidently made on the basis of maintaining historic references.

“This meeting has clarified that where, under the current constitution, nobody disputed the decision was the UK Government’s to make, that does not mean that objectively unfair decisions are allowed to stand. I believe there are two objective grounds for challenge, and one thing is certain, I will not let this lie.”

Mr Cameron added: “I find the Defra minister’s decision on the distribution of the convergence money quite indefensible and totally lacking in logic.

“The fact of the matter is that the basic reason for the convergence funds being made available in the first place is the low level of SFP presently being paid to Scottish farmers. If these levels of payment had been over a predetermined level then no funds would have been available. It is a matter of logic therefore that these funds should be distributed in Scotland.”