It is sometimes said that the Common Agricultural Policy establishes a level playing field across Europe, allowing farmers to take part in the European single market without fears about a plethora of national subsidies distorting prices, giving some a helping hand and holding others back. If only it were true. The fact is that when it comes to the biggest ticket item in the CAP, the €36 billion in direct payments (the decoupled single payment scheme plus various commodity-linked direct payments), the CAP is far from being a common agricultural policy.
Agra Focus has been conducting a series of interviews on EU farm policy and one of the longest and most interesting to date is with Allan Buckwell. He is currently policy director with the (England and Wales) Country and Land Business Association, but is also chair of the policy committee run by the European Landowners Association. He was for many years a respected agricultural economics and policy academic at the now sadly diminished Wye College. Perhaps his most interesting role in policy terms was when he spent a year in DG Agri in 1995-6 and chaired a group which wrote a report on a Common Agricultural and Rural Policy for Europe.
In yesterday’s Irish Times I went ‘head to head’ with Michael Ring, a Fine Gael member of the Irish Dáil (legislature). I was putting the case for transparency in public expenditure on farm subsidies and Michael was arguing against. He made the claim that transparency in the CAP will “will give a clear indication of income of each farming household”. To be fair, nobody is arguing for the disclosure of farm incomes, just for the disclosure of the amount of government handouts to each farm. But could it be that the two figures are rather similar? And what does that mean for the economic viability of farming in Ireland?
By approving a set of proposals to water down the already modest Commission proposals for the health check, the agriculture committee of the European Parliament has reinforced its reputation for thinking rooted firmly in the past and largely captured by the narrow set of producer interests who do well from the CAP status quo. As I have argued before, the lack of ambition of the health check is playing into the hands of the growing number of those who would like to see the CAP swept away altogether.
The European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) is a rare creature among Brussels think tanks: first, it advances a strong free trade agenda and second, it does not rely on EU institutions for its funding (its website says that its ‘base funding’ comes from the Free Enterprise Foundation in Sweden). Earlier in the summer EPICE published a briefing paper about the CAP written by Valentin Zahrnt. There’s not a whole lot new in the paper and there is a lot in common with a policy brief I wrote for the Centre for European Reform back in December 2005. The author comes down firmly on the non-trade-distorting, public money for public goods agenda advanced most strongly by Sweden, Denmark and the UK (and more moderately by the Netherlands).
In December 2006 European Union heads of government agreed a new Financial Regulation, the legal text that sets out the rules for the EU budget. The new Financial Regulation contains new requirements on the public disclosure of end beneficiaries of EU funds. The first significant fruits of the new budget transparency law are due by 30 September 2008, the deadline set out in the implementing regulations relating to expenditure under the Common Agricultural Policy. By this date each member state is obliged to provide a web-based search tool detailing all end beneficiaries of EU funds spent under rural development programmes between 1 January 2007 and 14 October 2007 (sometimes referred to as the second pillar of the CAP).