Simplifying the CAP for Europe's hard-working farmers has been an absolute priority for me since my first day in this job. Monday night in the European Parliament in Strasbourg afforded me an opportunity to propose one of the main changes which my services and I have been working on for a number of months - a yellow card system and fairer, more proportionate penalties for farmers.
Farm families across the EU often feel they are being "caught out" by authorities when it comes to applications for direct support. Forms are filled out at kitchen tables late at night, or increasingly at the home computer as more Member States move to online services. The stamp is stuck and the letter is posted, or the "send" button is clicked, and that's that.
A couple of months later, an inspector appears, and if any errors are found in the application, the farmer can be penalised, and direct payments cut. This can lead to a feeling of incomprehension and victimisation– a climate of fear is created, as "repeat offenders" face even harsher penalties.
Farmers apply for their entitlements in good faith. For many of them, it is a vital part of their income. The vast majority of farmers are honest, decent hardworking people, doing a tough job in difficult conditions, at all hours of the day and night, seven days a week. It is a family effort, with partners, children, neighbours and relatives all pitching it at various times.
Thus, to treat an honest mistake as an "offence" is not in the spirit of fair play. Moreover, it is not proportionate, especially if the error is minor and occurs for the first time.
It is for this reason that I proposed a new, fairer system of penalties for errors, as well as a "yellow card" system for first time mistakes. This should hopefully end the stress and anxiety that many hard working farm families feel when filling out detailed forms.
Furthermore, this simplification is not about letting farmers "off the hook." In fact, an additional simplification, namely the opportunity for preliminary checks of aid applications to be made by authorities before the application is formally closed, will see errors reduced, as farmers are proactively helped to ensure that their applications are accurate.
This shifts the emphasis from national authorities "policing" farmers to actively aiding them in ensuring that their forms are accurate. This way, farmers only receive the aid to which they are entitled – no more and no less. This is fair play for farmers and equally importantly, fair play for taxpayers – fewer errors equals less risk to the sound financial management of the CAP.