Commissioner Hogan proposes a fairer and more transparent penalty system for direct payments
The latest tranche of simplification measures unveiled by EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan will include a raft of measures designed to end the "climate of fear" for farmers when applying for aid under the Common Agricultural Policy.
In line with the ongoing efforts to simplify the implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), Commissioner Phil Hogan presented on 18 January [236 KB] his latest proposals to the members of the Agriculture and Rural Development committee of the European Parliament, in Strasbourg.
The focus of the newly announced simplification package is on the penalty system for most direct payment schemes, to take into account reasonable concerns by farmers in case of unintentional mistakes while also reducing the frequency of errors and therefore protecting public funds.
The simplification package unveiled yesterday by Commissioner Hogan consists of three complementary elements. First of all, preliminary checks of aid applications would allow farmers to make corrections to their aid applications during a period of up to 35 days after the final date of submission without any penalties.
Second, the system of administrative penalties for direct payments would be simplified. Whereas the current system for the calculation of penalties is based on different categories that can result in penalties of sometime more than double than what is over-declared, the different categories will be replaced by a simple penalty, which is 1.5 times the area over-declared. This reduced level of penalties, when approved, would apply for 2016. Small over-declarations that are up to 3 per cent of the area declared or 2 hectares would continue to not be penalised.
Third, a 'yellow card' system for first offenders would be introduced. Where the over-declaration is minor (below 10% of the area determined), the administrative penalty would be cut in half.
Farmers having received a yellow card will be registered and will be subject to an on-the-spot control the following year.
Commenting on the proposed changes, Commissioner Hogan 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.
Throughout the year 2015 and further to consulting with many institutional and non-institutional stakeholders, Commissioner Hogan proposed several simplification measures which were implemented by the Commission. The list of all CAP simplification measures to date is below:
- One month extension of the deadline for aid applications from 15 May 2015 at the latest to 15 June 2015 at the latest;
- Additional flexibility with regard to the rules for the identification and registration of animals concerning their eligibility under the voluntary coupled support schemes – in response to concerns of Member States (MS) and Member of the European Parliament (MEPs)
- With regard to the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) layer, MS were given the flexibility to map, after verification and before payment, only 'declared EFAs' (and not all potential EFAs);
- Greater flexibility with regard to the identification of some EFAs in the EFA layer;
- Further flexibility to allow gaps up to 4 metres in hedges or wooded strips qualifying as EFA;
- Addressed the issue of adjacent EFAs by recognising a limited buffer area between the farmer's parcel boundary and the adjacent EFA;
- Application of a simplified approach for the identification of some specific types of permanent grassland in the Land Parcel Identification System (LPIS);
- In the case of incorrect declarations, farmers were allowed to compensate for a missing EFA by another EFA found in the same parcel during an on-the-spot control, even if the latter has not been declared.
- Establishment of a High Level Group of Independent Experts on Monitoring Simplification for Beneficiaries of the European Structural and Investment Funds.
- The introduction of preliminary checks of aid applications, to allow farmers to make corrections to their applications for up to 35 days after the final date for submission without penalty;
- Further possibilities for national administrations to reduce the level of on-the-spot checks for 2016;
- Increasing the efficiency of the selection of samples, by better combining different samples, hence limiting the number of beneficiaries to be subject to an on-the-spot-check;
- Introduction of management rules for a system of collective claims under Pillar II, specifically in relation to agri-environmental and climate measures – to allow farmers to deliver public goods more effectively and efficiently acting collectively than by acting alone;
- Providing farmers with further possibilities to modify their declarations regarding the use of their agricultural parcels for the purpose of greening – will have a positive impact on farmers who may need to adapt their cultivation plan during the growing season;
- Three changes to simplify the Voluntary Coupled Scheme (VCS):
- allow national administrations to transfer funds between different measures,
- allow modulation of the unit rates of aid – takes into account economies of scale and allows further targeted support to smaller farmers; and
- streamline notification when changes are made to the VCS.
- Simplification of the rules relating to the Young Farmers' Scheme to give discretion to MS on the eligibility of legal bodies controlled jointly by young and other farmers – this reflects difficulties experienced by some MS to determine appropriate rules in cases where both young farmers and other farmers shared control of the enterprise.