Brian Gardner's Blog

The still relatively new UK Government believes that it can reform the CAP, settle the Doha Round and liberate the world’s agricultural markets. Subsidies will be phased out, import barriers and export restrictions removed and efficient farmers will face a brave new world of expanding markets and higher profits. ‘Oh, and while we are about it, we’re going to cut the European Union ‘s agricultural budget’. As if.

Like the courtiers of King Canute, successive British governments whether of left, right or centre, have committed themselves to turning back the tides of protectionism and farmer coddling which have dominated agricultural policy formulation in the European Economic Community, the European Community and the European Union for the last fifty years. And sooner rather than later they find themselves acquiescing in whatever messy compromise is cooked up to keep the CAP show on the road. The current Conservative led coalition, you can be sure, will be no exception.

The latest manifestation of this phenomenon came from the UK minister responsible for agriculture policy Caroline Spelman (and as a seasoned Brussels watcher in her former life, she should know better) addressing the National Farmers’ Union annual indaba: “The UK must get world leaders to open up markets, allowing you to export more, and freeing up world trade,” she said.

The UK’s “new” position, she said, was not to scrap all subsidies immediately, but to support “genuine and enduring reform that was evolutionary, helped farmers become more market-orientated, opened up markets to farmers and rewarded them for the environmental benefits they deliver” . While the latter objective is likely to be successful, because it dresses up more handouts to landowners in green camouflage, the former is highly unlikely. The current consensus, in Commission, Council and European Parliament is not for radical reform of the CAP, but for maintenance of the subsidy-based status quo after 2013 and beyond.

This approach will of course be extended to a Doha Round agreement (if any). Tarrif reductions will be limited and hedged around with conditions and the EU will maintain its right to subsidise exports and manipulate markets.

Spelman ended her peroration with the statement that: “There’s bound to be a smaller CAP budget,” Community spending on agriculture policy has increased almost every year since the first; it has gone up most during the years of so-called ‘reform’ since the mid-1990s.

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