CAP expert rises to red tape challenge

Richard Barker, solicitor and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) expert

Richard Barker, solicitor and Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) expert

A top Suffolk lawyer has been called on to help Brussels bureaucrats to cut red tape around the European Union’s (EU) farm subsidy regime.

Richard Barker, who has spent years helping farmers to unravel the complexities around the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), has now been asked for his input on how to simplify it.

Unlike most people, Mr Barker, of Barker Gotelee in Ipswich, relishes the challenge of working his way through the complex rules and regulations which make up the newly-reformed CAP and has spent a great deal of time in Brussels gaining an in-depth understanding of how the subsidy system, which must function across 28 member states, works.

“Following Mr (Phil) Hogan’s appointment as Commissioner for Agricultural and Rural Development in the European Commission he announced that simplification of the CAP is a key priority and at the beginning of 2015 he invited member states, stakeholders and other EU institutions to submit proposals aimed at simplifying the CAP,” Mr Barker explained.

“Being a member of Team Europe, and having worked closely with the commission for over 25 years, I was asked to become part of the simplification process. It was put to me that the commission had at long last realised that the doctrine of subsidiarity meant in practice that we should decide what should be on our breakfast table, not an institution.

“Accordingly, after discussing the complexities of the present CAP with farmers, landowners and consultants, I submitted a paper with some suggestions for simplifying this regime.”

The commissioner has announced the first of the simplification packages, which relates to the penalty system, taking account of unintentional mistakes.

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This involves preliminary checks so during a 35-day period farmers can correct mistakes without penalties following preliminary checks with national administrations and a simplified system of administrative penalties.

He has also announced a yellow card system for first offenders where the declaration is minor.

“It’s a start, and further simplification packages will follow,” said Mr Barker.

“I am now in discussion with the commission about the trade agreements affecting or relating to agriculture which shall need to be renegotiated should the UK decide to leave the EU.”

A further simplification package is scheduled for spring 2016 with the aim of reviewing some of the technical elements of the greening measures and of cross compliance rules, he said.

The commission is also proposing to reduce the number and complexity of the market measure rules which will in turn simplify things for farmers, he added. This package will include public intervention and private storage measures, fruit and vegetable schemes and member state reporting and notifications.

Simplification proposals around greening measures include harmonising hectare thresholds and landscape feature dimensions.