DG Agri study: Don’t be afraid of liberalization

Farm interests routinely threaten that any reduction in support will provoke a slump in production, endangering EU food security, and threatening massive land abandonment to the detriment of rural life and biodiversity. The findings of the Scenar 2020-II – Update of scenario study on agriculture and the rural world, commissioned by DG Agri, strongly contradict such panicmongering about the looming end of EU agriculture.

The study looks at three scenarios. The reference case assumes a 20% (nominal) CAP budget reduction, reduced intervention stocks, full decoupling, a 30% direct payment reduction, a 105% increase for the second pillar, and a moderate Doha agreement (based on the Falconer paper, including the elimination of export subsidies). The conservative scenario presumes that the Health Check results are largely maintained, direct payments reduced by only 15% and second pillar payments raised by 45%. The liberal scenario is very liberal indeed, with a 55% CAP budget reduction, no intervention stocks, no direct payments, a 100% increase for the second pillar and no tariffs.

Among the most interesting results is that the volume of crop production will grow slowly in all scenarios (around 0.25% per year). Even the vulnerable livestock sector loses only 4% in the liberal scenario over the entire 2007-2020 period. Agricultural land use remains roughly unchanged in the reference and conservative scenarios, and declines by a mere 6% in the liberal scenario (due to the decline in the EU-15, driven mostly by the abolition of the Single Farm Payment).

More significant differences arise when it comes to land prices. These remain largely unchanged in the reference and conservative cases, but decrease by 30% in the liberal scenario. This is nothing the public need worry about – but it explains the heavy lobbying of landowners for the preservation of a ‘strong’ CAP.

The study also analyzes the situation of rural regions. It concludes that strong rurality is not synonymous with negative economic or demographic trends. 422 regions have a negative and 435 regions a positive demographic trend (with negative developments in the eastern Member States and at the southern and northern borders of the EU). The study also finds that ‘There is no evidence that the EU-27 regions with an above average agricultural employment are generally showing negative reactions. Hence, it shall be emphasised that rurality and agricultural vocation are not a sign of weak development perspectives.’ This further undermines the rural development approach of the CAP that spreads money to all rural regions, often in positive correlation with their agricultural production.

A last point to consider: surveys of life satisfaction and happiness give very similar results for urban and rural areas. Since ‘happiness’ is in vogue (and heads of states from Bhutan to France argue for happiness accounting to complement GDP figures), why worry if rural regions have a lower GDP per capita, so long as people there are equally satisfied?

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