Better cancel that early summer holiday. There are just two months to contribute to the European Commission’s latest public debate on the future of the CAP.
The EU’s agriculture commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, launched the debate on Monday, unveiling an exciting new website where “stakeholders” are encouraged to share their thoughts about structure and objectives of the CAP after 2012. But hurry: the website will be open for contributions until June 2010.
“The Common Agricultural Policy is not just a matter for experts,” Ciolos said. “It’s a policy for all Europeans.” Quite so, one was tempted to add. We’re paying for it.
So, who does Ciolos want to hear from? Farmers, naturally, but also environmental protection groups, consumers, and animal welfare groups. “We must open this debate up as much as possible,” he said.
Ciolos gave one or two hints about which way he’s leaning. (Or isn’t.)
On the one hand, the commission is willing to limit payments to some of Europe’s largest farmers, and the subsidies system “needs to be fairer.” On the other hand, the financial crisis and volatility in the agricultural markets illustrate that the CAP “has a more important role than ever.”
Thus, while any reform should consider the need to intervene during crises, and if possible avert them, because “a lack of intervention could cost much more in the medium-term,” the market should be allowed to “play its role”.
So what happens next? The website is up and running and stakeholders have until June to contribute. The commission hopes to get as wide an array of submissions as possible. Its aim is to respond before the end of the year and deliver legislative proposals some time next year.
Elsewhere this week, Europe’s new environment minister, Janez Potocnik, called for a shake-up of the CAP so that farmers and businesses would get subsidies only if they took on a far wider stewardship role and adopted a “greener” agenda. He said it was time Europe focused on “resource efficiency” as much as energy efficiency to improve land quality and create a more sustainable way of life.
Tapping a similar vein, the head of the European Commission’s water unit, Peter Gammeltoft, said water efficiency in farming – which accounts for two thirds of EU water use – should be one of the priorities in reforming the CAP.
Although the CAP Health Check introduced some positive measures in that respect, Gammeltoft said more should be done “to make agriculture contribute to water efficiency.” He also referred to Australia, where water savings regulation in agriculture has apparently even improved the profitability of farming.
Meanwhile, addressing the General Assembly and Working Groups in Brussels, Joris Baecke, president of the European Council of Young Farmers, said the legitimacy of direct payments based on historical references is declining.
CEJA also released figures this week showing that seven percent of EU farmers are under 35, compared with 32 percent are over 65.
On the capreform.eu blog, Valentin Zahrnt criticized the European Parliament’s own-initiative report on the post-2013 CAP.
Though better packaged, and sexed-up with a ‘green growth’ tag, the content is just as dull and conservative as an earlier incarnation, he says. Worse still, it “captures the intellectual deficiency of the CAP-insider bubble.”
In particular, Valentin examines the “peculiar lines of reasoning that are considered to prop up the case for a strong CAP”: the reference to past spending as a justification for future spending; the blindly mercantilist appetite for world market shares; and the all-or-nothing drama when it comes to the survival of European agriculture and the public goods that depend on it.
Together, he says, these are examples of a fundamental problem: “the CAP debate is taking place in a bubble … by people who want to keep the CAP as it stands or to reform it as much as is necessary to preserve it.”
Valentin also looks at a new study by two consultancies which spells out the budgetary needs involved in meeting environmental and landscaping objectives in the UK. The report claims farm subsidies could be reduced in the UK to as little as £2bn.
This, he argues, supports the case for EU-wide subsidy reductions. “What is needed is a serious, EU-wide estimate of the costs of different CAP policy options ahead of the negotiations for a new long-term budget,” he concludes.
Elsewhere, Wyn Grant notes the European Commission has announced plans for a new EU Animal Health Law. Promoting animal welfare is a key aspect of a ‘public goods’ oriented CAP, and there is need to move from dealing with animal disease outbreaks to stopping them happening in the first place.
As ever, though, “the big question is: who pays?”