In March, for Finnish farmers as everywhere, spring heralds planning and fieldwork. Cultivation plans are finalised and parcel data are declared as the baseline data for support applications. Every spring the complex support framework leads to complications in the planning – frustrating the farmers and causing unnecessary fears of making mistakes.
Discussion about the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy and support payments is not a new one. This is also a cross-cutting theme in the policy preparation for the next programming period. I do believe that the Commission, the European Parliament, as well as ministries and paying agencies in the Member States truly aim to create a more effective and simpler policy to strengthen the vitality of the rural areas and secure profitable food production.
Unfortunately the achievements towards this end are still quite modest. In order to succeed, we need to take a comprehensive view of the matter. Simplification must extend from the meetings and meals in Brussels to field margins.
Systematic simplification, less nitpicking
So, where should we start? There is a lot of bureaucracy already at the policy preparation stage. One good example of this is Finland’s rural development programme, with measures aimed to enhance the countryside as a good environment to live and do business, also for the young, and to improve the state of the environment and animal welfare. When browsing the present programme document one cannot help thinking whether the same or even better impact could be achieved by a simpler programme with less documentation. The massive 900 pages of the rural programme leave the reader dumbfounded.
However, mere shortening of policy documents will not make life easier for the beneficiaries. Systematic simplification is also needed in the implementation of the payment schemes. It is to be hoped that by doing this we will make farmers less uncertain and ease their administrative burden. The controls and checks relating to payments must be reformed and sanctions made more proportionate. It is time to take full advantage of modern technologies and address only the truly meaningful errors. The current system, which stumbles on minor mistakes and deviations in surface areas, is not cost efficient. Nitpicking compromises the credibility and understanding of the whole system.
Farmer as a peacekeeper
Our goal for the next period we must be a strong, flexible, predictable and simple agricultural policy that is also beneficial for the environment and climate. Good agricultural policy supports rural entrepreneurship, promotes the sustainable use of natural resources, and provides the conditions for responsible production of wholesome and safe food all across Europe. Food is not to be played with. A farmer is the best peacekeeper – anarchy looms if one skips just a few meals.
Director-General, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Finland