It is now over a week since the confirmation hearing of Commissioner-designate for Agriculture and Rural Development Dacian Ciolos before the European Parliament, but it was only this weekend that I had the opportunity to listen to the EP’s video of the hearing itself. Commentary elsewhere on Mr Ciolos’ performance has been rather negative (my colleague Jack Thurston described it as a lack-lustre performance both in style and substance) and I would not disagree with this assessment – his responses on co-financing and on the legitimacy of equal per hectare payments across all EU Member States were just two examples of woolly and obfuscatory replies.
But I think we may need to take into account the context of this confirmation hearing, which was solely before members of the EP’s Committee on Agriculture. Thus, Mr Ciolos was faced with a totally one-sided perspective on agricultural policy by agrarian representatives. Committee members sought his views on the reintroduction of price supports, higher barriers against third country imports and more support for their special interest groups. While in a democratic parliament farmers have every right to have their views and concerns raised, why were there no representatives from the Committee on Development? From the Environment Committee? From the Health Committee? From the Committee on Budgets and from Consumers? All of these groups have a legitimate interest in agricultural policy. This was a disgraceful decision by the Parliament, which in the case of other Commissioner-designates associated members of other Committees with the questioning of the nominee.
Given this loaded confrontation, I thought Ciolos actually made a reasonable fist of his replies, in that he avoided giving hostages to fortune while showing a suitable deferential attitude to the Committee which had the power to influence his nomination. He described himself as a reformer, although he clarified that this meant adapting the CAP to the realities of 27 Member States and to new situations, and did not mean reducing financial support to agriculture or giving up existing instruments. But he was firm in making clear that there could be no return to the market support instruments of the past, while leaving open the need for new instruments to address questions of price and income volatility. He also seemed to be prepared to think creatively about the second pillar, and his defence of the current level of the agricultural budget was not a defence of the Pillar 1 budget alone. I would not be prepared to write off prospects for CAP reform yet during the period of Mr Ciolos’ tenure.
There is a useful summary of the hearing exchanges prepared by the Parliament here, but as yet no full script of the hearing. The written answers to questions posed by EP AGRI to Mr Ciolos are available here.