Jack Thurston

Writer and activist
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Jack is a freelance writer, broadcaster and activist based in London. He is a co-founder of farmsubsidy.org, the campaign for transparency in the EU's common agricultural policy and has served as a special adviser to the UK minister for agriculture and as a transatlantic fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He has degrees in PPE from Oxford University and in public policy analysis from the University of California at Berkeley.

Recent blog posts written by Jack Thurston

Barroso CAP Vision: Motherhood & apple pie

Just as it’s hard to love Commission President José Manuel Barroso, it’s hard to loathe him. Maybe that’s why he’s the ultimate compromise candidate and has just secured a second five year term of office. President Barroso has just published political guidelines for the next Commission, setting out his stall for a ’2020 vision’ of [...]

Do we need a “common” agricultural policy?

The final paragraph of Commissioner Fischer Boel’s valedictory leaflet is revealing and foreshadows the debate that has yet to surface about the future of the CAP after 2013, the end of the current financial perspective. Mrs Fischer Boel makes the case for maintaining a common European agriculture policy among the EU’s 27 member states, presumably [...]

Fischer Boel valedictory leaflet

Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel has announced she’ll not seek a second term in office. Unlike predecessors Franz Fischler and Ray MacSharry there is no round of CAP reform named after her and perhaps it is to make up for this that the Commission has just published a new leaflet.

EU farmers drive Ukraine’s agricultural revolution

Earlier this week BBC’s Newsnight aired an extended feature on how overseas farmers are bringing the investment that’s transforming Ukraine’s agriculture into vast arable mega-farms. There is no doubt that Ukraine, with its vast expanses of fertile land, has the potential to make a valuable contribution to the global supply of food. Let’s hope they [...]

Timetable for the next ‘truly big’ CAP reform

Roger Waite, one of the sharpest analysts of EU farm policy writes at farmpolicy.com on the timetable for the next CAP reform. Definitely worth reading. “Analysis from Brussels”- by Roger Waite- Towards the Next, Truly Big CAP Reform- The Timetable

Tackling the new (old) productivism

This afternoon I did a pre-recorded interview with BBC Radio 4′s Farming Today programme. The subject was the House of Lords report on the 2010 EU budget, which says too much money is being spent on agriculture. The first question I was asked by the presenter shows how deeply the new (old) productivism has taken [...]

New BBC documentary series: The Future of Food

Last night, BBC2 screened the first of six hour-long episodes in a new documentary series, The Future of Food.

Friday fun quiz: What is a public good?

Anyone who has followed the CAP debate this past few years will have observed how the term ‘public good’ has been adopted by almost everyone seeking to advance their own vision of the CAP, from the dinosaurs of COPA-COGECA, to the more moderate National Farmers Union to the José Bové’s Via Campesina, organic farmers like [...]

Franco-German combine to set future path of the CAP?

Euractiv reports on the creation of a new Franco-German working group to frame reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013. France has a new Agriculture Minister in Bruno Le Maire, who wasted no time in setting out his stall in meetings with Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Podcast: Roger Waite’s Brussels update

Roger Waite, editor of Agra Facts and journalism fellow of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) joins Jack Thurston (GMF Transatlatic Fellow) for a discussion of the current top issues in agriculture policy in Brussels: protests by European dairy farmers, the future of direct payments, what’s in store in the EU budget review and will Mariann [...]

Green groups score Fischer-Boel 4 out of 10

The Green-10 grouping of European environmental groups (including big-hitters like Birdlife, WWF and Greenpeace) has produced a dismal scorecard of the outgoing European Commission’s environmental record. The report describes Agriculture Commissioner Fischer Boel has having begun well but quickly reverted to a ‘disappointing business-as-usual approach’ to the common agricultural policy.

What does France think?

France is Europe’s agricultural powerhouse and when it comes to the CAP, it is probably the single most influential member state. So what France thinks is of central importance to the future of EU farm policy. It is therefore good to see the publication of the latest of the national reform profile series at the [...]

CAP transparency is here at last – and we need YOUR help

The long and winding road towards transparency in the 55 billion euro a year common agricultural policy passes a major milestone today, the deadline for all member states to begin publishing basic data on who gets what.

UK farm unions call for a common EU agriculture policy

The four main farm unions of the United Kingdom today unveiled a joint manifesto aimed at the June elections to the European Parliament. The slim, 8 page document sets out a UK farmers’ agenda on a range of issues of concern. While the manifesto makes the case for lighter touch regulation of farming (e.g. on [...]

A chorus of despair

Earlier this week I was invited to take part in a round table discussion, as part of a major conference on the future of the CAP, organised by Birdlife/SEO and WWF. The conference began with a joint presentation by SEO and WWF of an interesting new proposal for CAP reform in Spain. The proposal envisages [...]

Jamie Oliveoil explains the politics of the CAP

I don’t much agree with the Taxpayer Alliance, a right-wing campaign group based in London. The TA thinks taxes are theft and believes governments are rife with waste, fraud and abuse. I think paying taxes is patriotic and believe most public servants are well motivated and do a good job. The TA uses the CAP [...]

Pressure building on Commission to postpone milk quota reform

If there was a jewel in the crown of the CAP health check deal agreed last November it was probably the decision to phase out milk quota between now and 2015, with a one per cent increase in quota each year. But this prize is now under threat as several powerful EU member states led [...]

Farming and the depression

Is it too early to call it a depression? Difficult to tell, but all the news this month is pointing in that direction. So it is timely that over at the CAP2020 blog, Martin Farmer has written a lengthy post on the impact of the global economic slowdown on farming. In many respects, it’s a [...]

Tenant farmer tells it like it is

I have a lot of sympathy with tenant farmers. It is sometimes said that farmers are asset rich but income poor, by which it is meant that they own a lot of extremely valuable land but don’t make a whole lot of profit from working it. In the case of tenant farmers, who have to [...]

Don’t watch this, take a look at that

You will be forgiven for wondering why things have been a little on the quiet side here at CAPHealthCheck.eu over the past couple of months. For my part, besides some intensive behind-the-scenes work at farmsubsidy.org and and exciting new EU budget transparency project that’s still under wraps, I’ve been blogging more on the EU budget [...]

10 reasons why the Single Payment Scheme is politically unsustainable (part two)

Last week I posted five reasons why it is hard to justify spending 30 billion euros each year on the Single Payment Scheme. Here are five more reasons.

10 reasons why the Single Payment Scheme is politically unsustainable

The EU spends around 30 billion euros each year on the single payment scheme, by far the largest of the myriad schemes and programmes that together comprise the 54 billion euro budget of the Common Agriculture Policy. The scheme was first introduced in 2005 but it is hard to see it surviving in its current [...]

Farmers queue overnight for subsidies

It’s not uncommon to see reports of people queueing up all night for the latest iPhone, the next Star Wars movie or tickets to watch tennis at Wimbledon. But as I write, farmers in Northern Ireland are queueing outside for farm subsidies. The government in Northern Ireland has decided to hand out farm subsidies ‘on [...]

Health check redux and commodity market worries

There is an excellent piece of analysis from Roger Waite, editor of Agra Facts, on the final health check legal texts and the current situation in commodity markets. Falling prices are worrying farmers and piling the pressure on policy makers to turn the clock back on the CAP, with the ink barely dry on the [...]

+++ Breaking news: world’s peat lands under threat from EU biofuels law +++

I’m told that the Finnish and Swedish governments (backed by the French EU Presidency) are working right now to insert a loophole to new EU biofuels sustainability standards that would allow the destruction of the world’s peat lands, with appaling consequences for increasing global greenhouse gas emissions. Chapter and verse from BirdLife International after the [...]

Court of Auditors’ report on cross compliance is damning

It’s no wonder that the Commission suppressed the Court of Auditors report on cross compliance for as long as it could – the report is damning and undermines the Commission’s case for the legitimacy of EU farm subsidies. Speaking in 2005, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel explained how she sees cross compliance in relation nearly [...]

The last word on biofuels

It’s December and the weekend newspaper supplements are already starting to swell with all those ‘end of the year’ reviews – on news, sport, books, films, celebrity gossip… In the same spirit my German Marshall Fund colleague Dr Tim Searchinger has written a policy brief that brings together in one place the conclusions of ten [...]

French CAP plan nixed by Council

Today’s meeting of the Agriculture Council witnessed the frequently irrestistable force of French attachment to the Common Agricultural Policy run into the occasionally immovable object of UK, Swedish and new member state desire for change. The result was that a much-trumpeted French vision paper for the future of the CAP beyond 2013 was roundly rejected. [...]

20:20 vision

With the health check done and dusted, European agriculture policymakers turn to the bigger questions of the future of the CAP after the current EU financial perspective, which ends in 2013. Ever since the Chirac-Schroeder deal of 2002, which fixed the overall CAP budget and allocation of direct payments for the subsequent eleven years, there [...]

Tangermann’s parting shot

Later today Stefan Tangermann will step down as Director of the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, a post he has held since 2002. The OECD has a strict ‘retire-at-65′ rule and it may surprise some to learn that the tall and spritely German, invariably sporting one of his trademark bow-ties, has reached such an age. [...]

A little light relief

It’s Friday afternoon and it’s been a long week. What better to calm the nerves after all the excitement of the health check than to take a break by spending a few minutes playing a new online video game from the European Commission? It’s called Farmland: The Game and in it you will have to [...]

Commission did suppress cross compliance report, says MEP

A week ago I asked why a unfavourable report on cross compliance by the Court of Auditors, adopted on 4 November, has not yet been published. I wondered whether it had anything to do with the imminent end game of the health check negotiations, which featured propoals to further weaken cross compliance requirements. Turns out [...]

Podcast: the inside story on the health check deal

Roger Waite, Editor of Agra Facts, gives the inside story on the all-night negotiations that led to a deal early this morning (20th November) on the health check of the CAP. He explains how the negotiations were handled, that the big winners were Italy, Germany and France and that at key moments there was intervention [...]

So who voted for what?

Unanimity, like pregnancy, has a binary quality. A decision can’t be ‘virtually unanimous’. But this is just how French farms minister Michel Barnier described this morning’s final compromise agreement on the health check package. So which of the EU 27 member states were unable to acquiesce in the deal? My sources tell Roger Waite tells [...]

Parliament’s health check recriminations begin

With the ink barely dry on the Council of Ministers’ final compromise deal on the health check, leading members of the European Parliament are laying into each other after a day of chaotic voting on the Parliament’s approach to the CAP. In a podcast interview yesterday, Paulo Casaca MEP (Socialist Group) told me that the [...]

+++ Health Check deal +++

European farm ministers have reached a deal on the CAP health check. The principal points are these: * Five annual milk quota increases of 1% each with effect from April 2009, prior to total abolition of the quota system as from April 1 2015 (unchanged from Commission proposal). As is now traditional, when it comes [...]

Podcast: Paulo Casaca MEP on the chaos of Parliament’s farm policy

In the second of today’s podcasts from the European Parliament, Paulo Casaca MEP gives his immediate reaction to a series of votes on the CAP health check that saw many MEPs break ranks from agreed party lines, evidence of the passions that are aroused when the Parliament debates food and farming. He argues that the [...]

Podcast: Neil Parish MEP on today’s health check vote

The European Parliament today votes on the CAP health check. I spoke with Neil Parish MEP (pictured right), who represents the largely rural constituency of South West England and is a farmer himself. He also chairs the Parliament’s agriculture committee, which drafted the report that is being voted on today. Perhaps unusually for a committee [...]

Fischer Boel in the European Parliament

Mariann Fischer Boel attended the plenary debate on the CAP health check in the European Parliament earlier today. There is little to report from the debate – most of the contributions were bland and reflected the general desire of the European Parliament to water down the Commission’s reform proposals. Neil Parish MEP called for the [...]

European Parliament defends farm fat cats

If Europe’s wealthiest landowners, from the Duke of Westminster in the UK to Prince Albert of Monaco to the fabulously-named Johannes Adam Ferdinand Alois Josef Maria Marko d’Aviano Pius von und zu Liechtenstein (aka Hans Adam II, Prince of Liechtenstein) were having sleepless nights over the future of their six and seven figure annual handouts [...]

Cross compliance: is the Court of Auditors being gagged?

As Wyn Grant has observed, the Court of Auditors annual report on the 2007 EU budget published on Monday identified a clutch of weaknesses associated with the controls on spending on EU farm policies. The Court observes that “Some 20 percent of payments audited at final beneficiary level and revealed incorrect payments, a limited number [...]

Commissioner Grybauskaité: no future for direct payments

A major conference entitled “Reforming the Budget, Changing Europe” was held yesterday in Brussels, marking the end of the consultation phase of the ‘no taboos’ review of the future of the EU budget led by Budget Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaité. The former Lithuanian finance minister presented the results of the consultation process that received more than [...]

Podcast: Roger Waite on the health check end-game

As we head into the end-game of the health check, Roger Waite, editor of Agra Facts, analyses the big five outstanding issues: 1. Dairy quotas – how to ensure a smooth transition to a free market in milk within the EU. 2. Article 68 – targeted policies or recoupling via the backdoor? 3. Modulation – [...]

Commission perspectives on agriculture and rural development

For most of its life, DG Agriculture has been concerned with managing agricultural markets, increasing farm productivity and guaranteeing European farmers a good income. In the 1990s, under the leadership of Commissioner Franz Fischler, it began paying more attention to broader economic development and environmental concerns in rural areas. This new interest led to the [...]

Average direct payment per hectare (2014) - http://sheet.zoho.com

Moving towards a flat rate farm payment?

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 [...]

Irish farmers 71% reliant on subsidies

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 [...]

Turkeys vote for Christmas

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 [...]

Free market think tank weighs in on CAP reform

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 [...]

Who gets what in EU rural development funds

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 [...]

+++Netherlands government position paper+++

The Dutch have a well-deserved reputation for straight talking and so it is with the Government’s new position paper on the future of the CAP. As the following paragraph shows, there is no ambiguity over where the Netherlands government stands on the great targeting debate: In the long term – as described in the present [...]