Every so often DG Agriculture commissions an opinion poll to find out how much European citizens love the common agricultural policy. As a democractic exercise it is somewhat reminiscent of elections in the former German Democratic Republic (99 percent for the communists!). The result of these ‘Eurobarometer’ surveys, which are carried out by TNS Opinion, a reputable polling company, is never in doubt: European citizens love the CAP a lot.
Among the findings of the recently released poll are the following:
- Nine out of ten of Europeans regard agriculture and rural areas as important for the future. I’m rather curious about the one in ten who don’t. Could the pollsters have unearthed a previously unknown European Inedian cult?
- While two out of five Europeans surveyed have heard or read about the CAP only 13% say that they have a clear idea of what the policy actually is. The number of respondents who really know the truth about the CAP is, of course, far smaller and these individuals have been rounded up and are currently being detained in a bunker on the rue de la Loi for deprogramming.
- Six out of every ten respondents (61%) do not think agriculture is one of the major causes of climate change. Europeans are obviously unaware that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ranked agricultural and changing land use through agriculture as two of the top three causes of climate change (alongside burning fossil fuels). Livestock farming is responsible for 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Besides revealing the lack of knowledge of key agricultural issues among European citizenry, when it comes to the CAP itself, the survey is quite shameless in steering respondents towards its preferred answers. Take this question, on income support for farmers:
Incomes in the agricultural sector can vary greatly from year to year according to market and weather conditions. The European Union is currently giving payments to farmers to help stabilize their income. Personally, are you in favour or opposed to the European Union continuing to do so?
83 per cent said they were in favour. Another way of putting the question might be,
Incomes in the agricultural sector can vary greatly from year to year according to market and weather conditions. The European Union is currently giving payments to farmers in such a way that the biggest farms with the best land get the most income support. Personally, are you in favour or opposed to the European Union continuing to do so?
As a question, it’s just biased as the question asked by TNS Opinion, yet something tells me the answer would be rather different.
Looking at the future level of the CAP budget, the survey trumpets the finding that,
“A majority of EU citizens believe that financial support to farmers should be either maintained or increased in the next ten years.”
This is an unsurprising result as the survey asked “over the next 10 years would you like to see an increase, decrease or no change in the European Union financial support to farmers?” This completely fails to confront respondents with the trade-offs inherent in budgetary decision-making. The survey ought to have teased out the trade-offs in maintaining CAP expenditure at current levels: allocate no new money for other priorities or pay more taxes. But of course, it didn’t.
In my experience of working on surveys of this kind I would guess at a cost of at least half a million euros – remember it was carried out in all 27 member states, with a 1000 respondents in each country. Besides being a collosal waste of public money, it is perhaps most worrying because it shows that, despite all the talk of a big public debate, the DG Agriculture officials responsible really couldn’t care less about what kind of farm policy citizens want, and are much more interested in getting a few phony factoids with which to pepper the Commissioner’s speeches defending the CAP status quo.
If you have an interest in seeing how far an opinion poll can be twisted to give the desired results, or maybe just a masochistic streak, you can read the survey in full: