Brian Gardner's Blog

It was entirely predictable that EU farm ministers would respond to the European Commission’s post 2013 CAP reform proposals by agreeing on a policy direction which would ensure that there can be no radical change in the Union’s €50+ billion a year common agricultural policy. What was however surprising, even to hardened farm council watchers, was the blatant disregard for the financial stress which the EU and individual member states currently face.

Anyone doubting the determination of the agricultural policy makers to continue on their time honoured track need only consider the first statement in the concluding communiqué of the March 17 meeting. It notes that “the future CAP has to remain a strong common policy, and with regard to the EU budget, should have financial resources which are commensurate with its objectives, without prejudice to the decisions on the EU’s Multiannual Financial Framework post-2013”

While even lawyers will often dispute the true meaning of the phrase ‘without prejudice’, in this context it clearly means that whatever it is necessary to spend on protecting and supporting farm incomes must be spent – without danger of limitation by the conclusions of the wider budget review. Whatever cuts have to be made in other policy areas, CAP spending is sacrosanct.

Overriding the views of the would-be reformers in Council, the communiqué goes on to restate the intention to maintain the CAP status quo largely unchanged. Underlining the majority view that direct income support to EU farmers is essential to “ensuring a

fair standard of living for the agricultural community”, it goes on to maintain that it “also enhances the provision of public goods and services by farmers for which the market does not pay”. A contention strongly contested by many leading economists and environmental analysts. The one does not follow automatically from the other.

The Council statement reaffirms that direct subsidies “will remain an essential element in the CAP towards 2020, notably in the context of the additional costs producers face in meeting the EU’s high environmental and animal welfare standards.” The latter statement being again highly contentious, given that more competitive agricultural exporters elsewhere in the developed world have to meet similar or even higher standards.

What’s more, dear taxpayer, if you want more environmental and welfares conditions, they are going to cost extra; they will not be applied at the expense of existing subsidy handouts. That is the plain language interpretation of the communiqué statement that: “Any further greening should be simple and cost-effective, avoid any overlap between pillars and must be based upon the experience of the CAP’s current green policy measures”.

And what’s more, the Council is going to maintain the ‘belt and braces’ approach through maintenance of market protection and market manipulation, if annual handouts of €300 a hectare do not adequately maintain farm incomes – and if necessary we could need more. The Council “broadly agrees that existing market measures continue to constitute a necessary safety net and that greater flexibility and quicker deployment in the application of measures by the Commission is required.”

There is nothing in the communiqué which demonstrates any new thinking whatever. If any proof were needed that the ministers will back only a no-change approach for the post 2013 policy they only need to heed the words of French Farm Minister Bruno Le Maire at the conclusion of the March 17 meeting : “It’s a strong political signal of support by governments for the CAP, and for strengthening it in the years to come.” Enough said.

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