A report by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs select committee of the UK Parliament has called for the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy to be replaced by a new “Rural Policy for the EU”. While the committee of MPs, whose job is to shadow the work of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), described the objectives of the CAP as ‘an anachronism’, it reserved its strongest criticism for the UK government itself, which is described as naive and impatient.
The report, published today (PDF), is a direct response to the UK Government’s own vision paper for the CAP, published in December 2005. The Committee of MPs is chaired by former Conservative junior agriculture Minister Michael Jack, but has a Labour party majority. This didn’t stop them from being hard on the UK Government’s handing of the issue of CAP reform during it’s EU Presidency:
The Government showed a naivety in believing that its Vision document could be its catalyst to a reform agenda when it was introduced so near to the end of its Presidency and without any programme in place to gain support for the British position. For British ideas to succeed, it is important that the UK adopts a more sophisticated approach to its agenda than when it launched its Vision document on an unsuspecting audience and without prior effort to prepare other farm ministers for its arrival. This approach was counterproductive and caused a negative reaction. The UK will need allies if the British reform agenda is to be secured in the future.
The Committee also signal an end to the current ‘pillar one’ of the CAP, which is now dominated by the Single Farm Payment. They argue that:
The only long-term justification for future expenditure of taxpayersâ€™ money in the agricultural sector is the provision of public benefits. Payments should represent the most efficient means by which society can purchase the public â€˜goodsâ€™â€”environmental, rural, socialâ€”it wishes to enjoy. For these payments to remain publicly acceptable, it is essential that they relate directly to the public goods provided and that, in turn, these public goods are measurable and capable of evaluation.
Elsewhere in the report, the MPs acknowledge that much of the value of the new environmental stewardship payments are lost to farmers as they end up capitalised into the value of farmland. They also note that the election of Nicolas Sarkozy as President of France may result in a less trenchant and ‘stubborn’ defense of the interests of French farmers. Looking to next year’s CAP ‘health check’ the MPs read the runes of recent remarks by Commissioner Fischer Boel and predict a package containing at the very least:
â€¢ the abolition of set-aside
â€¢ the elimination of most, if not all, of the existing derogations from the principle of full
decoupling of the Single Payment Scheme
â€¢ an increase in the rate of mandatory modulation (above the current 5%)
â€¢ a formal commitment not to prolong the milk quota regime once it expires in 2015.
Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union, the largest lobby group representing British farmers, criticises both the Comittee of MPs and the Government, stressing instead the need for a policy emphasis on national food security and protection of European farmers against international competition.