When the Lisbon Treaty came into force on 1 December 2009, one of the big winners was the European Parliament which gained equal status with the Council of Ministers in most EU decision-making, including for the first time agricultural policy-making (although with some ambiguity about its role in setting prices and aid levels to which Wyn Grant has drawn attention). There is considerable interest in whether these new powers will be used to promote or block CAP reform. The pessimistic view is that the EP will become the focus of intense sectoral lobbying which will be used to block reform.
The president of the main farmers’ union, the Fedération Nationale des Syndicats d’Exploitants Agricoles (FNSEA) Jean Michel Le Metayer called for “a pause in agri-environmental measures” and the suspension of new measures. For French speaking readers, the (short) video is here.
The Ministry of agriculture seems sympathetic with this position, even though Nicolas Sarkozy has recently positioned himself as greener than his predecessors, with initiatives under a framework law called the “Grenelle of the environment” and a carbon tax (it turns out that farmers should be exempted from paying this tax, eventually). The French minister Bruno Le Maire apparently said a few days after that, indeed, a revision of the agri-environmental measures (AEM) was necessary and that it should start with an inventory of the provisions adopted throughout the Union according to the newspaper Le Figaro.
Roger Waite, editor of Agra Facts and frequent podcast guest on this blog, has accepted the job of spokesperson for Agriculture Commissioner-designate Dacian Ciolos. It’s sometimes said that you can count the number of people who truly understand the Common Agricultural Policy on the fingers of one hand. Roger is certainly among that select few. He’s been reporting on agriculture policy in Brussels for the past 17 years and certainly knows his way around. He speaks fluent French (and German?) and has been said to possess a ‘silver tongue’. He steps into the larger-than-average shoes of Michael Mann, another poacher-turned-gamekeeper who gave up his job as the Financial Times Brussels correspondent to speak for Ciolos’s predecessor Mariann Fischer Boel.
A Farm For the Future is a documentary that aired on the BBC last year. It explains just how oil-dependent our agriculture is: every calorie of food produced in the western world requires ten calories of fossil fuel energy. The film looks at the challenge of dwindling oil supplies and tries to find out what kind of farming – and food – might we be expected to see in a post-peak oil world. The answer? Permaculture and more nuts.
The film is available on Youtube in five parts.
Agriculture Commissioner designate Dacian Ciolos will appear in a confirmation hearing at the European Parliament in Brussels this Friday. Here is a list of 25 questions that MEPs should put the man who – subject to their approval – will set the agenda for European food and farming policy over the next five years.
The hearing will be webcast live, between 9am and noon, Brussels time.
1. Should maximising food production in Europe be a central objective of the CAP?
2. How would you respond to those who say it is hard to make the case for the CAP as a policy to support farm incomes when there are six and seven figure subsidies being paid every year to the likes of the Queen of England and Prince Albert of Monaco?
This group blog on European food and farming policy began in 2008 during the ‘health check’ or policy review of the CAP and could be found at the URL caphealthcheck.eu. The ‘health check’ is now well in the past and it’s time to rename this blog to keep up with the times and to introduce a new design. We hope you like it. The entire archive has been transferred to the new domain at capreform.eu and hopefully all the subscriptions (email and RSS) should continue to work. If there are any problems, use the contact form to get in touch.
Britain’s National Farmers’ Union is noted for its strategic, long-term view of agricultural issues. Its officials have a sophsiticated, well informed view of developments and it was therefore interesting to read an interview in the latest edition of Farmers Weekly with the NFU’s head of economics and international affairs, Tom Hind. He was at one time acting head of the NFU’s office in Brussels.
Not surprisingly, he takes the NFU line that farmers need to continue to receive the single farm payment (SFP) to give them a degree of income stability, especially faced with volatile markets. A basic tenet of agricultural economics is that markets for farm commodities are relatively unstable: to put it at its simplest, even with modern agronomy, the weather remains a factor which can disrupt such markets.
Sugar did not experience the massive price spike in 2007-08 of other commodities, but has been making up for this with a tremendous increase in prices in 2009, driven by poor harvests in Brazil (the world’s largest producer) and strong import demand in India (the world’s largest importer). Raw sugar prices have risen from around 10 USc/lb in May 2008 to over 27 USc/lb currently, and market analysts expect further increases in the coming months.
The increase in world prices means that world prices are now above the (much reduced after the recent sugar reform) EU reference price. Recent price trends are shown in the following figure, reproduced from the SugarTraders website
Despite the very tight global market, EU sugar beet supplies have moved in the opposite direction.
The EU dairy market is now recovering from the severe drop in milk prices in 2009. Perhaps the clearest sign of this recovery is the setting of export refunds on dairy products to zero since mid-November, as world market prices for dairy products have strengthened in recent months.
It is thus an opportune time to evaluate the EU’s response to the crisis, and to see what lessons might be drawn for how the Union can address similar problems in other farm sectors in the future. My view is that there is a lot to be learned from the dairy crisis, and that the outgoing Commissioner deserves credit for the way she handled it.