As the European Union gears up for the CAP Health Check in 2008, the United States is already deep in debate over the Farm Bill, which is due for renewal this year. Just as the CAP sets Europe’s farm policies, the Farm Bill (each one lasting for 5 years) defines agriculture policy for the US. And just like the CAP, the Farm Bill is hostage to the narrow producer interests that benefit directly from the policy: big, industrial agribusiness and farmers who monoculture the five big subsidized crops: corn, soya beans, wheat, rice and sugar. ‘Outsiders’ such as consumers, taxpayers, conservationists and those speaking up for farmers in poor developing countries rarely get much of a look in.
The Agriculture Commission has today announced a series of changes to the cross compliance system under which European farm subsidy payments are made conditional on farmers meeting basic rules relating to farm management and environmental conservation. The thrust of the changes is to streamline the system, make it less onerous for farmers and for the government authorities charged with inspecting farms and enforcing penalties where rules have been broken.
During last week’s furore over trading in CAP subsidy entitlements, the question of what farmers must do in return for their subsidy was raised. In a speech on 6 March 2007 in India, Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel said that the CAP’s new Single Farm Payment (SFP) is conditional on farmers observing “tough standards of environmental care, animal welfare and public health”. But a new report from the Institute for European Environment Policy provides some evidence that the conditionality of subsidy payments is something of a mirage. Only in a very small number of cases do the requirements actually exceed what was already required by member states’ pre-existing laws on environmental pollution and animal welfare.
The past week has seen a series of revelations in the media about the way that decoupled farm subsidies are operating in Scotland. It has become evident that farm subsidy entitlements are being sold by farmers and that investors – who may never have set foot on a farm – are buying up entitlements to claim the new Single Farm Payment, which accounts for the bulk of the European Union’s £48.5 billion Common Agricultural Policy.
Speaking at the annual conference of the National Farmers’ Union, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel set out her priorities for next year’s CAP ‘health check’. She described her approach as ‘one vision, two steps’, the first step being the health check and the second step being the EU budget review scheduled for 2008/09. It will be very interesting to see how successful she will be in keeping these two steps separate, as the sheer size of the CAP in relation to the rest of the EU budget (in 2005 it was a shade under 50%) makes it impossible to have any meaningful budget discussions without addressing the future of the CAP.
With her silvery hair, Marks & Spencer outfits and matronly demeanour, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel can give the impression of being rather old fashioned. So it comes as some surprise to discover that she is in fact a techno-geek.
Welcome to the CAP Health Check blog. This is where to come for news, views and analysis relating to the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy and specifically the ‘health check’ (or policy review) scheduled for 2008. The blog brings together the work of researchers, activists and analysts from across Europe and elsewhere. If you want to contribute your analysis or views to the blog, please use the contact form to get in touch or send email to email@example.com. If you want to comment on a particular story, use the comment form at the bottom of every story.
There’s very little on the blog right now, but the hope is that over time it will build up into a valuable resource for people interested in the future of Europe’s farming, food and rural development policies.