Brian Gardner's Blog

The most recent meetings of the European Union’s farm ministers have given a pretty clear indication that any changes which may take place in the common agricultural policy are unlikely to be more than cosmetic. After much wrangling in the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) and in the Council of Ministers itself, a completely anodyne draft communiqué for the latest meeting eventually emerged. It carefully papered over the massive fissure which undoubtedly exists between the Anglo-Scandinavian reformers and the solid rump of defenders of the faith of CAP orthodoxy.

This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that the nearest that the Council will ever get to change was the SCA suggested conclusion that any further CAP “greening” should be simple and cost-effective, must avoid an overlap between pillars and must be based on the CAP’s current green policy measures. In plain language this means: “We don’t mind a few more environmental additions but don’t mess about with the basic subsidy and market support system.”

The various versions of the communiqué agonised over by the SCA contain some corking non sequiturs. Example 1: “Considering that the overwhelming volume of CAP support is decoupled, there is a broad agreement to continue voluntary coupled support in sensitive sectors and in certain regions while maintaining the integrity of the internal market.” If direct, production linked subsidies are maintained only in certain regions then competitive equality in the whole internal market is impossible.

Example 2: Apparently the phrase “appropriate” financial resources for a “strong CAP”, was substituted for previous draft versions which had read “provision of commensurate” resources. Why split hairs? Either wording really means “we shall demand as much money as is needed to maintain our prolix policies – as we have always done”. And no doubt the European Council and the Finance Council will continue to nod through the CAP’s €50+ billion a year with only the usual token protest from the CAP agnostics.

But with yet another phase of CAP modification under way, there are plenty of views and opinions being bruted about on what should be done rather than what will be done. One of the more credible, the more so because it comes from within the farming and food industry, is the view of Chris Haskins – Lord Haskins, farmer and one time food processor (claimed inventor of the ‘chicken nugget’). In a Centre for European Reform Brief, Haskins wades through all the issue currently bearing on any possible or probable CAP reform.

While many will disagree with his view that farm income subsidies should be maintained to 2023 and beyond, his assessment of the food security issue is likely to have considerable political resonance. If the world is to be adequately fed in 2050 we need to stop hamstringing scientists and innovators and get on with the job of increasing global food production.

Climate change and limits on fertiliser, pesticide and energy inputs could put a severe strain on the capacity of the world to produce enough food, unless governments respond appropriately, he argues. “The European Union should therefore substantially raise its investment in agricultural research, to improve yields, to develop plants which can cope with the extremes of flood and drought, and to enable its farmers to grow more food. If this happens, Europe could well become a major source of food for other parts of the world struggling to cope with a combination of population growth and climate change. The Commission should organise collaborative agricultural research across the EU rather than leaving each country to go its own way.”

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