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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » November 29, 2012
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CAP: Equality is Key
November 29, 2012   
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By Stanisław Kalemba, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The debate over the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 is gaining momentum. The most recent session of the EU council of ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries took place at the end of October in Luxembourg and concerned the equalization of direct payments for farmers in individual member states. The goal is to make the payments equal for all. This is a highly important topic, because amounts paid to farmers at present are based on historical entitlements. Agreed on many years ago, the current amounts will not be justified in the financial perspective after 2013.

At the end of the meeting, I emphasized it was necessary to equalize the payments as early as 2014 and thus avoid long transition periods (until 2019, as proposed by the European Commission) that could disrupt competition on the single market. I also said I was in favor of the Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS) continuing after 2013.

During the meeting, I spoke to Irish Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, who will preside over the council as of January 2013. I advised him of Poland’s position on the Common Agricultural Policy. Similarly to me, Minister Coveney believes that using historical parameters to calculate direct payments is hard to justify. He also has a flexible approach regarding the Single Area Payment Scheme, but according to him, there needs to be a transition period, as radical cuts in payments are unacceptable to Irish farmers.

On Oct. 30, I went to Bucharest to take part in Round Table talks on the Common Agricultural Policy, attended by ministers from new member states and EU Commissioner for Agriculture Dacian Ciolos. Romanian Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin’s invitation to the talks was accepted by ministers from Poland, Bulgaria and Slovakia. They advised Commissioner Ciolos of their positions on important issues about funding for the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013. The ministers voiced their disapproval of the proposal which the Cypriot presidency of the EU presented to cut the CAP budget after 2013. They also had similar views on a number of issues, agreeing that the Single Area Payment Scheme should be maintained after 2013 and that the Common Agricultural Policy needed to be simplified, especially when it came to environmental issues and the convergence of direct payments.

I had a bilateral meeting with Romania’s Agriculture Minister Daniel Constantin during which we agreed to work jointly on ensuring a better system for farmers after 2013.

The debate in the EU is clearly an ongoing one and it is still hard to tell what the new Common Agricultural Policy will look like in the end. As far as Polish agriculture is concerned, both of the policy’s pillars are vital: direct payments (Pillar One) and rural development (Pillar Two). However, this country, and that includes agriculture, will also need a third pillar to develop further—the cohesion fund. For that reason, we have been working on a partnership agreement with the Ministry of Regional Development. When spent appropriately on, for example, local road construction, the cohesion fund will lay firm foundations for the development of local communities in Poland. We need to remember that rural areas account for over 93 percent of Poland’s territory and are home to over 38 percent of the country’s population.

This year, applications for direct payments were submitted by 1,359,298 agricultural producers. The applications concerned 14,104,758 hectares of land in good agricultural and environmental condition. We must not forget that the funds help maintain and create jobs in other sectors of the economy, because farmers use the funds to buy different products needed in agriculture. This is evidenced by research and by surveys conducted by the TNS OBOP polling center which show that direct payments are primarily spent on products used in agriculture, fertilizers, farm fuel and pesticides. A part of the funds is also spent on production tools, food products and the construction and renovation of homes, farm buildings and education. I would like to point out that much of the above is produced by international corporations, which means that money spent by Polish farmers helps the corporations maintain jobs in both Poland and other countries of the EU. This is something worth remembering, especially at a time of crisis.

Direct payments, that is, payments which are separate from production, prevent excessive concentration and its negative impact on the environment. They also improve the competitiveness of farms. I consider them an efficient system of supporting agriculture and environmental protection across the EU, which, of course, includes Poland. Consequently, I am constantly striving to secure direct payments for Polish farmers that are at least equal to the average amounts paid in the EU. I am convinced that a system founded on historical data no longer reflects the situation today.

How big a role direct payments should play in the Common Agricultural Policy as a whole is debatable, but we need to remember that for almost 500 million consumers in the EU, direct payments are a guarantee of sufficient supplies of reasonably priced quality food, while ensuring that the environment is protected and farmers’ revenues are maintained at the same level. This stabilizes the situation in rural areas.
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