Top Commission officials have confirmed that in the face of opposition from four member states (Czech Republic, Germany, Slovakia and the UK) as well as many farm unions, Mariann Fischer Boel has dropped plans to cut the very largest farm subsidy payments by 45 per cent. The plan, which would have affected an estimated 23,000 farms that receive in excess of €300,000 a year, a list which is dominated by Europe’s wealthiest landowners such as the Duke of Westminster, Prince Albert of Monaco and the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein.
While few expected this proposal to make into law, it surprising how fast the Commission has backed down. Some suggest that the proposal was only ever included as a way of embarrassing the UK government, which consistently argues for CAP reform in general, but refuses to accept the case for targeting income support on the farmers that need it most. I have argued elsewhere that this position sits uneasily with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s long standing commitment to means testing and targeting elsewhere in the welfare state.
While Queen Elizabeth II and the rest of Europe’s aristocratic landowners will no doubt be breathing a sigh of relief that their handouts are safe for another four years, allowing these very conspicuous exemplars of the core inequalities of the CAP to persist is probably a tactical error on the part of those who would like to preserve the current system of income support to farmers beyond 2013. As more information becomes available about exactly who gets what from the CAP, these high profile payments will continue to discredit the CAP.