EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has announced a move to a more proportionate approach to Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) penalties, including a new ‘yellow card’ system for first-time offenders.
Mr Hogan said he wanted to end the ‘climate of fear’ for farmers when applying for the Basic Payment Scheme and other direct payment schemes as he presented his latest CAP simplification package to the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee MEPs this week.
The key elements are:
Mr Hogan said the package took into account the ‘reasonable concerns’ by farmers about penalties imposed for unintentional mistakes while also reducing the frequency of errors and therefore protecting public funds.
He said: "These simplification measures should have a direct effect on farmers, sending a clear message that our interest is not to catch farmers out as it were, but ensure that public money is well spent. Farmers, I know, fully support that goal.
“I believe that the preventive preliminary checks, the yellow card and the simplified penalty system should make the lives of farmers easier, and even more importantly, they should reduce significantly the number of error and consequently of cases where administrative penalties would need to be applied."
"These proposed changes should end the climate of fear for farmers, and are a fair and proportionate response to the concerns of smaller farmers in particular", he concluded.
MEPs on the Agriculture Committee welcomed the measures.
Scottish National Party MEP Alyn Smith said “It is a source of quite justifiable frustration for farmers that relatively minor and unintentional mistakes can lead to quite serious reductions in payment.
“The proposals mark an important step towards eliminating that frustration, and are welcome relief for farmers.”
"Commissioner Hogan promised us when he took up the post that lightening the administrative burdens of the CAP would be his main priority.
“While there are still major changes I would like to see in the near future, no one can deny that he has made an impressive start: creating more flexibility in Ecological Focus Areas, reducing the burden of inspections, allowing common sense amendments to IACS forms, and now applying some leeway for administrative penalties.”
Richard Ashworth, the Conservative spokesman on agriculture, said: "This announcement will be welcomed by the farming community, and I hope this move towards simplification will spark a long-term culture change in the agriculture industry.
"There is a direct link between the complexity of regulation and error rate, as we see the same errors appearing time and time again.
"Regulation must not be over-burdensome, and penalties must be proportionate and fair, otherwise they risk creating a feeling of distrust and fear.
"The European Parliament has to remember, however, that it added more complexity to the reform of CAP in 2013 than any other player.”
South West MEP Julie Girling said the proposed changes ‘should be very good news for farmers’.
“Greater simplicity has to be the way forward and I hope this marks the start of a culture change for agriculture and the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP),” she said.
We need light and simple regulation together with fair and transparent penalties if we are not to to have distrust and fear.