Brian Gardner's Blog

The proposals for a reformed agricultural and rural policy from the Socialist and Democratic group in the European Parliament are confused and confusing. The group’s plan for a post 2013 CAP is claimed to be an “innovative and integrated system which would make the allocation of resources fairer among farmers and member states”. In fact, it looks to most realistic analysts like merely the traditional common policy, but with a few bolted on concessions to ‘new challenges’ – principally to answer current climate and other environmental concerns. The likelihood is that such a plan would deteriorate into merely an expansion of the scope of the existing policy – both in regulation and cost.

Most importantly, it recommends more market regulation, more compensation for ‘disadvantaged farmers’ and payments to farmers for ‘services to society’. The group’s proposals would however appear to be based on a number of false premises. Most obvious of these is the claim that: the principle of economic, social and territorial cohesion enshrined in the EU treaties “has never been included within the objectives of the CAP”. On the contrary, these principles were what the ‘common’ in common agricultural policy was supposed to achieve. Indeed, agriculture policy was the first of the European Economic Community’s policies to attempt to establish a common market.

From the beginning, the EEC recognised the principle which the Socialists stress in their document: “the primary function of agriculture is to feed populations, the sector is more strategic and cannot be dealt with like other economic markets” (a view which is currently increasingly being questioned). The fact that its achievement was continuously obstructed by monetary distortion and member government interference does not detract from these in-built principles. Since monetary union and establishment of the Single Market, the common agricultural market objective has been largely achieved.

In fact, what the socialist group want to do is to reverse this process by establishing regional enclaves of protection. There is of course the undoubted problem that the largest farms get the largest share of the current €50 billion a year CAP expenditure. This is inevitable in a subsidy system based on historical production levels. The socialists proposal would not however, eliminate this inequity because any system designed to protect markets inevitably benefits the largest producers most.

Only a policy which eliminated direct income subsidies and made specific payments for non-production environmental, landscape preservation and other services would, to some extent, reduce the imbalance in payments. In the most radical versions of such a policy, such as that proposed by the European Landowners and Birdlife International, such a policy would be instead of and not, as the socialists would have it, in addition to a full scale farm support policy. Even then, most expenditure would still inevitably tend to go to the largest occupiers of land.

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