A tale of two visions

The reformist zeal of the 15 professors in the German scientific advisory board on agriculture is remarkable, and their statement (in German) largely concurs with the declaration for ‘A Common Agricultural Policy for European Public Goods’ signed by experts from all across Europe half a year ago. The statement even goes beyond the recent proposals (in German) made by the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU): agricultural economists overtake environmental experts in their demands for CAP reform.

According to the scientific advisory board on agriculture, market price, direct income and farm-level investment support should be removed. There is no reason to fear a massive breakdown in EU agriculture: 61% of German agricultural area is rented out, so that large share of direct payments does not benefit farming anyway; bioenergy makes it increasingly attractive to continue farming; structural change will allow significant cost reductions to make farming more competitive; several agricultural sub-sectors are economically viable, and have been so for a long time, without receiving significant subsidies and tariff protection; the extra costs of higher EU standards are low for most farms (less than €50/ha); and targeted payments to maintain agriculture in areas threatened by undesirable land abandonment can compensate adverse effects.

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The limits of (evaluating) rural development policies

The evaluation of rural development policies has improved over the years. The current mid-term evaluation, with all member states applying the sophisticated Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (CMEF) underpinned by voluminous Commission guidelines, is another step forward. DG Agri is adding further tools to make evaluations even more productive, such as an Internet platform for all stakeholders involved in the evaluation process.

The philosophy of monitoring, learning and adjusting is correct – but it can lead to an excessive trust in our abilities to manage economic processes, including their social and environmental implications. We must recognize the limits of our ability to glean information about the diverse challenges on the ground, to identify the locally diverse and multifaceted effects of policy interventions, to process this information intelligently and impartially, and to draw adequate conclusions.

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The development angle

“Waste at home and damage abroad”. That is how one Member of the European Parliament described the common agricultural policy. Gabrielle Zimmer, a German MEP who sits on the parliament’s development committee, was speaking at a conference convened last month by the United Nations Millenium Campaign to look at the impact of Europe’s farm tariffs and subsidies on developing countries.

According to Eckhard Deutscher, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and another participant in the same meeting,

“The biggest challenge the EU’s development aspirations are facing is the lack of policy coherence. The trade, development, agriculture and environmental policies are simply out of sync with regard to developing countries.”

Eveline Herfkens, Founder of the UN Millennium Campaign, pulled no punches,

“An unreformed European agriculture policy will continue to hamper the EU’s and other donors’ efforts to eradicate poverty and will perpetuate human suffering.”

European countries lead the world as donors of development aid, but for decades the EU has pursued agriculture policies which have had the reverse effect – whether it’s trade barriers that make it harder for developing countries to export farm produce to Europe or subsidies that encourage European farmers to overproduce, driving prices down and undercutting unsubsidised farmers in poorer countries.

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10 May: Sugar is sweeter

Who wants to be a farm subsidy millionaire? Quite a few, it turns out.

According to data released by EU governments – and crunched by our sister organisation FarmSubsidy.org – the number of farmers and food companies who received individual payments of more than €1m this year rose by more than 20 percent on the previous year.

Count ’em up: Germany has 268 millionaire recipients, while France has 174 subsidy millionaires, including several banana-producing companies in French overseas territories. Altogether France’s subsidy millionaires took over €1bn in 2009. Besides the sugar refiners, big payouts went to dairy processors and trading companies, as the EU increased dairy export subsidies in 2009.

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Who will guard the guardians?

It is EU practice (and legislation) to subject the CAP to a sophisticated system of evaluations. For each member state’s rural development program (RDP), an ex-ante, mid-term and ex-post evaluation is being undertaken by independent bodies. Other studies, commissioned by DG Agri or DG Research, examine specific CAP instruments across Europe on a rolling basis. In addition, the European Court of Auditors scrutinizes selected CAP instruments (here you can find summaries of their CAP-related studies).

But how independent are the evaluators? How strong is their mandate? How useful are the findings? In a recent article in EuroChoices, Angela Bergschmidt, an evaluator from the Federal Research Institute in charge of agriculture in Germany, offers a bleak account:

[It is] a useless evaluation; costly, often low in scientific quality, unread and unnoticed by policymakers and the wider public.

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EU boosts farm subsidy millionaires by more than 20 per cent in 2009

Today, farmsubsidy.org revealed the results of an intensive two-day harvest of new farm subsidy data published by the European Union’s member states in accordance with the new laws on disclosure of beneficiaries of EU funds.

The data, relating to payments made in 2009, has been harvested from twenty seven government websites, in some cases using advanced computer programming techniques. So far, data on 38.3 billion euros of payments have been harvested (from a total CAP budget of 55 billion euros). In some cases member states have made the data easy to access, in other cases they appear to take deliberate steps to block access.

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