Farm double payments clear hurdle

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Farmers could be paid twice for measures to protect the environment under a European Parliament deal.

The Agriculture Committee agreed that EU rules forbidding double payments should be waived to help farmers.

Green campaigners say the vote is a scandal and must be over-turned by the full Parliament and member states.

The motion was passed because many MEPs want to shield farmers’ incomes from the Commission's planned reform of the costly Common Agricultural Policy.

At the moment farmers get paid an annual average of 200 euros per hectare in direct payments from taxpayers - for doing little more than owning land.

If they want to be paid more they can opt for an extra green payment to help wildlife. It is under a different section of the budget and gains a further 80 euros.

With critics of the EU clamouring to end farm hand-outs, the Commission says farmers should earn a third of their direct payments by farming in a way that benefits the environment.

The committee agrees to that reform of direct payments. It means that all farmers will have to “green” their activities to get full direct payment.

But the MEPs insisted that farmers who are already gaining extra payments for green activities should be entitled to keep them – on top of the money they will get from the direct payment - but without doing any more to earn the cash.

In other words, to be paid twice for the same thing.

Faustine Defossez, Agriculture Policy Officer at the European Environmental Bureau, said: "In times of austerity, when governments and citizens across Europe are tightening their purse strings, it is scandalous - not to mention illegal - to expect taxpayers to pay farmers twice."

She urged the full Parliament to over-turn the vote to prove they were representing people, not just farmers. She said a previous planned reform of the farm budget was much more fair.

Campaign group WWF said the committee’s vote was outrageous and would bring the EU into disrepute.

A source close to the negotiations told BBC News that over-turning the committee vote might prove difficult.

The UK government says the double-payment plan must be blocked. It is likely to face extreme pressure on the issue from Conservative back-benchers already angry with the Brussels budget.

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