Time is running out to book your place at the annual Congress of European Farmers, organised by COPA-COGECA, the umbrella organization that attempts to represent European farm unions in Brussels. The two-day meet-up, entitled “Visions for the future of agricultural policy in Europe” takes place on 30 September and 1 October. Having perused the programme, Berlaymole is barely able to contain his excitement.
In his letter of invitation, Pekka Pesonen, the mild-mannered Finnish secertary general of COPA-COGECA, cuts to the core contradiction of the capacity of his organization holding a conference about ‘the future’. If truth be told, COPA-COGECA is profoundly backward-looking with policy positions that must inevitably be the lowest common denominator of the positions of all its members. They are so predictable that it is rarely necessary to actually take the time to read them, which helps save time. The message is invariably: resist change, defend what we have, things can only get worse. Or in Mr Pesonen’s own words “the priority is stability”. Uplifting stuff, straight from the Barack Obama book of rousing rhetoric. Even so, Mr Pesonen does show a little leg, revealing that at the congress he will “present for the first time [COPA-COGECA’s] ideas for the CAP after 2013; our vision for the future of agricultural policy in Europe.” Imagine, if you will, the Jurassic Cooperative of Dinosaurs’ ten point plan for averting the arrival of the asteroid (in this case the asteroid being the EU budget review which is expected to dramatically scale back public expenditure on farm subsidies after 2013).
The congress will be held at the Espace Léopold complex, seat of the European Parliament in Brussels, which is vacant because the European Parliament will be in Strasbourg that week. It is unclear whether the Parliament has given the space for free, or rented it out on commercial terms. Financial support has been provided by the European Commission, one of COPA-COGECA’s biggest funders, and by EuropaBio, a pro-GMO trade association.
It should be no surprise that the delegates will be addressed by Michel Barnier, France’s farms minister, who is chief ringleader of those who would turn the clock back to the productionist, protectionist, state-planning approach of the common agricultural policy of the 60s, 70s and 80s. FAO chief Jacques Diouf has chosen to stay away and is sending his assistant Hervé Lejeune in his place. Kristen Silverberg, the US Ambassador to the EU, is still considering whether she’ll accept an invitiation to provide a perspective from America. If she does accept, the theme of her address is likely to be fairly straightforward: ethanol tastes sooo good!
On the second day the massed ranks of European farm lobbyists will be addressed by the President and Chief Executive of Dow Agrosciences, a US-based pesticides manufacturer that also boasts a GMO division. European farmers will no doubt hang on every word of the speech to be given by Keith Kenny of McDonald’s Europe. McDonald’s is, of course, renowned for the local distinctiveness and cultural value of its food, the emphasis on seasonality, small-scale production and terroir: the very characteristics that come together in the ‘European model’ of farming and food and are so often invoked by COPA-COGECA’s members as they make the case for greater protection from globalized markets.
A short coffee break will give delegates the chance to savour Mr Kenny’s remarks before an address by Walter Pötter, General Manager of the Lidl Foundation. The precise nature of the Lidl Foundation is a mystery to Berlaymole, though Lidl is of course a well known ‘hard discount’ supermarket with a reputation for union-busting and dubious employment policies as well as having been the target of farmer protests led by the Irish Farmers Association, which just happens to be a paid-up member of COPA-COGECA.
The full agenda, and details of how to apply to be a delegate (a bargain at just €400 per person!) are available here. But do hurry, the registration deadline is 12 September. Berlaymole will not be attending. If the truth be told, your correspondent would sooner gouge out his own liver and eat it, gently sauteed in butter with a few shallots and a sprinkling of fresh thyme. Bon appetit!