EU farm payments
Malta is at loggerheads with Brussels over proposals to slash direct aid to farmers and warns that it will not support any changes to the EU budget if the European Commission does not consider its specific needs.
If the proposals are not revised, Malta’s farming community will be the worst affected in the EU, according to Foreign Affairs Ministry director general Joseph Cole.
“In these circumstances, it will be very difficult for Malta to support any redistribution exercise (of direct payments) that does not take in account Malta’s specific characteristics,” he warned.
Mr Cole aired his concerns during a recent meeting in Brussels on the ongoing negotiations of the EU’s next seven-year budgetary programme for 2014-2020.
As part of its overall changes to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Commission is proposing redistributing direct aid to farmers across 27 member states, which, in reality, serves as indirect subsidies to the farming community.
According to the proposal, the redistribution exercise should be solely based on land surface area, meaning some member states will suffer cuts while others will see their financial allocation grow.
Since many Maltese farmers till very small portions of land compared to the rest of their colleagues in bigger member states, the proposed exercise will mean Malta will suffer a seven per cent cut on its direct payment allocation in the 2014-2020 period. The average Maltese farmer has one hectare of land against 18 hectares in the EU.
Sources close to the government said that Malta was not accepting this situation and has been fighting its corner during meetings in the past months.
“Malta considers the reduction in the size of its allocation as completely unjustified and not based on objective criteria,” the sources said.
“The Commission’s proposal for the convergence of member states’ rates of direct payment per hectare does not take due account of the specificity of Malta’s case,” the sources said.
“The levels of direct support are meant to address sector-specific needs for reaching the desired production levels,” the sources said.
Last October, Leonard Mizzi, a Maltese official in the Commission’s Directorate General for Agriculture in Brussels, admitted that, through its proposals, Maltese farmers would be losing a substantial part of their direct payments.
However, he played down the issue and said farmers could recuperate much of the “lost” funds through another reform in the allocation of rural development funds, another part of CAP funding that amounts to more than 81 per cent of the total CAP allocation to Malta.
Government sources said Malta would continue to object to a one-size-fits-all approach, “based on a distorted calculation of payment entitlements in Malta”.
“The Commission should have only considered those forms of support that are given for eligible land, namely land that is kept in good agricultural and environmental condition,” the sources insisted.
EU leaders are expected to discuss the ongoing progress on the negotiations of the next multiannual financial framework – as the seven year budget is called – at a summit in Brussels later this month.
However, crucial negotiations are expected to take place in the second part of this year where member states will go into the fine details of their allocations.
It is expected that talks will go on until the very last days of 2012, culminating in a marathon horse-trading summit in December.
Malta received an allocation of €855 million in EU funds for the 2007-2013 period.
Source: Argentine Beef Packers S.A.