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The problem with asking anyone about the likely outcome
of the Brexit negotiations is that the circumstances and
set of likely or unlikely outcomes change with all of the
fickleness of an early spring day. The frustration felt
by EU negotiators was well spelled out by Agriculture
Commissioner Phil Hogan when he spoke to Matt O'Keeffe
in mid-January: "The Commission and the prime ministers
of the Member States, no less than myself, have been
bewildered as to why an effort to change tack has not
been initiated at this stage by the British government
after repeated defeats in the House of Commons. Prime
Minister May has introduced significant `red line' non-
negotiable issues including taking the UK out of the
Customs Union and the Single Market and not allowing
a regulatory alignment between the north and south of
Ireland. A change of stance is now necessary in order to
conclude a deal on Brexit. The prospect of a no-deal exit
for the United Kingdom is horrendous and not good for
anyone else either, including Ireland."
Room for mutual flexibility
With time running out for concluding negotiations
before the original, end of March, deadline Phil Hogan
was optimistic that a positive outcome was still possible:
"There is potential for flexibility on the part of the EU
provided similar flexibility is shown by the UK negotiators.
A postponement is predicated on there being a realistic set
of alternative proposals to be discussed by all concerned.
The time would then be given for enacting the necessary
implementing legislation to give any agreement legal
CAP conclusion deadline still intact
The Commissioner was quite bullish about the prospects
of an EU Budget being in place to conclude the latest
reform of the CAP: "I expect that both the EU Budget
and the Common Agricultural Policy will be completed
by the end of the year. I don't know if I will be still on the
Commission at that stage, though I do expect to be still a
Commissioner for most of the concluding arrangements at
While giving no hostages to fortune on his prospects of
being reappointed to the European Commission, The
Agriculture Commissioner did reveal some of his thinking
on the issue: "It's a matter for the Taoiseach and he has
to make his mind up about these matters by June or
July. I am a political realist and if I am asked to consider
continuing in the Commission, I would consider it. I would
be positively disposed to continuing as a Commissioner if
asked to do so."
Beef price support if necessary
Phil Hogan was unwilling to explore the possible impact
of a hard Brexit on Irish beef prices on the reasonable
premise that there is no point in "talking down prices".
He did, however, give some reassurances to beef farmers:
"At the end of the day, if there is an emergency arising
from Brexit and market disturbance develops, the
European Union would have to step in and help. There is
a recognition that any upheaval in the Irish beef export
trade would not be confined to Irish cattle prices. It could
impact on continental producers as alternative markets are
pursued with the potential for price and volume disruption
in other European markets. That possibility would ensure
necessary measures being supported from even unlikely
places. The various measures used in the past to minimise
market disturbances are still in place."
Support for environmental care
Commissioner Hogan gave forewarning of the changes
in farming practices that will be necessary in the years
ahead: "I have been under enormous pressure in terms of
safeguarding the CAP budget. At one stage a 30 per cent
reduction was being advocated. At this stage 96 per cent
of the budget is protected post 2020. And we haven't given
up on matching the existing budget allocation. There is
growing pressure to deliver on `public goods' and this will
increase. Farmers should be seen as part of the solution
on environmental care and climate action. They must
understand that without that commitment there will be
payment reductions. All of these issues will be intertwined
in the years ahead."
Commissioner Phil
Hogan talks to Matt
O'Kee e about
the bewilderment
surrounding the
British Government's
approach on Brexit,
the deadline for the
EU Budget and CAP,
and the importance of
environmental care.
Bewildered by
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