July 2, 2013
An endless refrain of British Governments over the decades has been the need to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, usually delivered above a continuo of the need to make economies in the running of the European Union. It would be logical to deduce therefore that whenever the opportunity to improve the efficiency and the economic effectiveness of the farm policy arises the Brits would be in there leading the charge. No chance.
In truth, the record of the UK on CAP reform is abysmal. Even when not actually instigating measures involving stuffing farmers’ mouths with gold, the UK agriculture minister would be at the forefront in blocking any measure aimed at stemming the flow of taxpayer largesse to unneedy land owners. The UK had not been in the EEC more than a few months before it called for the establishment of permanent intervention in the beef market which led to massive taxpayer expenditure and the largest beef mountain in the world (Conservative – Joe Godber). Throughout the 1970s the UK government pressed for successive devaluations of the ‘green pound’ which effectively trebled UK farmer’s prices in less than ten years and jacked up UK food prices to unprecedented levels; it also in this period succeeded in introducing special subsidies to pig farmers (Labour- John Silkin).
When at last the EEC (before it became the EU) got round to some real reform in the early 1990s, at the hand of the imaginative and tough farm commissioner Ray MacSharry, who was it who opposed caps on the payment of newly introduced production subsidies to large scale farmers? How did you guess – the UK farms minister (Conservative- John Selwyn Gummer).
And now they’ve done it again. After months of endless grandstanding from David Cameron about the need to cut the EU budget, his agriculture minister Owen Paterson wades into the agriculture Council’s CAP improvement negotiations and coolly opposes the European Commission’s still too generous proposals to limit to €300,000 the amount any one farmer can draw from the €50 billion a year EU farm subsidy pot. He also managed to mangle the degressivity proposal which would have resulted in progressive scaling down of subsidies paid beyond €150,000.
Not only does this not improve the equity of the policy but seriously limits the amount of money and the flexibility of funding for the second structural pillar of the policy – where more spending is actually needed. Had the Commission’s proposal been accepted the result would not only have saved money but had the symbolic importance of signalling the end of unlimited state financing of people who clearly do not need this support.
As I have pointed out in this blog on too many occasions: the only way to improve the European agricultural and rural policy is to abolish the per hectare single farm payment and pay direct social subsides to small farmers in economically disadvantaged areas. In this way the CAP budget could be cut by two thirds and the policy would begin to achieve one of its original major objectives of preventing rural depopulation.<02/07/2013>