Health check reactions…

With the Commission’s proposals widely leaked before publication earlier today, there was plenty of time for those who take an interest in EU farming policy to precook their reactions. In this post, which I will endeavor to update over the next few days, I’ll try to bring together a summary of the most interesting responses.

BirdLife International slams the proposals as “little more than a cosmetic facelift” for the CAP and regrets that even though Europe is facing the new and serious challenges of climate change, natural resource depletion and rising food prices, the Commission is taking a “business-as-usual” approach to CAP reform.

The UK National Farmers Union
calls for the CAP to “move towards a more level playing field”. The NFU opposes the additional voluntary modulation adopted in England. The Commission’s proposals on progressive modulation would go some way towards reducing the disparity between modulation rates in the England and the rest of the UK and the EU. NFU President Peter Kendall said:

“We have fought long and hard to ensure that the discrepancy in the modulation rates faced by British farmers when compared with their EU counterparts was reduced or eliminated and have received reassurances from the Commission that the Health Check would contribute to address this issue.”

The NFU’s chat about level playing fields is somewhat baffling. The vast majority of CAP support payments are now decoupled from production, ‘non-trade distorting’ in the language of the WTO. If EU farm aid is as non-trade distorting as we like to tell our trading partners, then variations in the levels of aid shouldn’t have any impact on competition, should they? Something doesn’t add up… and I suspect it wont be long before Geneva’s trade lawyers cotton on to this kind of doublespeak.

The NFU is also welcome proposals to weaken ‘cross compliance’, the list of environmental protection and animal welfare conditions that farmers have to observe to get their income support payments, but are concerned about the possibility for Article 69 to result in ‘modulation by the back door’ or ‘recoupling’ of farm payments to production.

Republic of Ireland junior farms minister Tom Killeen set out his priorities for the months of horse-trading that are likely to ensure now that the Commission has put its cards on the table:

“‘I will work on building alliances and understandings with Member States as well as outlining my concerns to the Commission in order to achieve progress on issues such as an acceptable and ambitious increase in milk quotas for Ireland. I will be voicing my concern at the proposed increase in the rate of modulation so that I can ensure the protection of farm payments in Ireland. I will also push for the retention of market management.”

German Green MEP Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf who sits on the Parliament’s agriculture committee insisted on the Health Check being adopted on a co-decision basis by both Parliament and Council, rather than by mere consultation.

“The Commission made a correct diagnosis of problems our farmers face, but the therapy is wrong… With such weak proposals, the Parliament must insist on a co-decision process and reject pressure from the Commission to pass the Health Check via consultation procedure. Direct payments, which are still based on historical yields and landownership, were supposed to be substantially cut in favour of strengthening environmental and employment benefits. This proposal has disappeared. The Commission chooses to address the problem of rising costs for animal feed instead of making proposals for a better balance between plant and animal production in Europe.”

Baringdorf claimed that the proposal is a disappointment compared with earlier drafts.

Over the past few weeks, readers of this site have been voting in a simple poll, on whether the Commission’s proposals are sufficiently ambitious. 57 per cent of respondents think the proposals are not radical enough. 18 per cent think the proposals are too radical and the same proportion think they’re about right. View current results.

Hilary Benn, the UK Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs welcomed shift in emphasis towards protecting the environment,

“We want to see more funding diverted from production subsidies towards targeted measures which will improve our landscape and biodiversity. The health check must also phase out all the price support measures which have kept consumer prices high, and the export subsidies which have undermined farmers in developing countries. And it must cut the bureaucracy which has hampered the competitiveness of farmers, so they can respond to the growing global demand for food.”

What do you think of the health check proposals? Let us know by leaving a Comment.

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