Parliament’s health check recriminations begin

With the ink barely dry on the Council of Ministers’ final compromise deal on the health check, leading members of the European Parliament are laying into each other after a day of chaotic voting on the Parliament’s approach to the CAP. In a podcast interview yesterday, Paulo Casaca MEP (Socialist Group) told me that the Parliament was ‘lost’ and suffering from a lack of political leadership, something he thought could come from the Commission or from within the Parliament itself. Meanwhile Neil Parish MEP, chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a senior member of the right-leaning European Peoples Party – European Democrats grouping, voted against his own committee’s report and against the EPP-ED position.

Niels Busk MEP, coordinator in the Agriculture Committee for the centrist Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe attacked the compromise deal of the Socialist Group and the EPP:

“I would have preferred that Parliament support the original proposals of the European Commission which would better equip Europe’s agriculture sector for the challenges facing it in the 21st century”

Speaking on behalf of the Greens – European Free Alliance grouping, German MEP Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf regretted that the Parliament was sticking to the policies of the past:

“The European Parliament today passed up the chance to call for a future-oriented agriculture policy. Instead it has supported a weaker position than the Commission’s initial proposal. Plans to properly address climate change, biodiversity loss, soil fertility and water management have been blocked and disappointingly few funds have been re-allocated to rural development.

“This is a victory for the agro-industry lobby, which has succeeded in maintaining the status quo of subsidies with minimal strings attached. Those that claim to represent farmers are in reality demanding public money to further industrialise food production, when what we need is a real shift towards sustainable rural development with social and environmental factors fully taken into consideration.

His sentiments were echoed by his British colleague Caroline Lucas MEP:

“At a time of food and energy crisis, EU policy continues to be biased heavily in favour of energy-hungry industrialised production. This comes at the expense of any substantial support for local, sustainable or organic agriculture.”

I am ashamed to say I have no idea how one finds out how MEPs have voted (is this symptomatic of the fabled EU ‘democratic deficit’?) and the Romanian think tank that runs a vote-tracking site seems not to have updated it since May 2008. If anyone reading has the voting lists, please post a link in the comments or send by email to news (at) caphealthcheck (dot) eu.

In one sense none of this matters since the Parliament has no legislative role on agriculture policy. But one day it might and even if they have no formal powers, MEPs are well-placed to change the ‘mood music’ around the future of agriculture policy and put forward imaginative ideas for how it can be improved. They can hold hearings, commission research reports, go on television and radio, lobby the Commission, build alliances…

And the next time the EU makes big decisions on the CAP, the European Parliament could well have co-decision powers, if the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified. To date, the Parliament has done little more than act as a modest break on the reform direction set by the Commission. Groups have been divided and prey to special interest pleading by powerful lobbies representing beneficiaries of the status quo. The disarray over the health check suggests that Mr Casaca’s analysis is right: the Parliament lacks a vision for agriculture, lacks leadership on the issue and doesn’t have the means to make evidence-based decisions. All this suggests it has a long way to go if it is going to exert a meaningful role on behalf of European citizens on food, farming and rural affairs. The time to start working on this this is now.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 Replies to “Parliament’s health check recriminations begin”

  1. I agree with Mr. Busk. This week’s deal between the socialist group and the conservative EPP is designed to block any reform of European agricultural policies. It serves to conserve past policies, particularly in the dairy sector. As Mr. Busk suggests, it is “manifestly conservative”.

    The deal indicates that it is high time to build a coalition of reform-minded candidates across party lines in the European Parliamanent. At present, however, Europeans who are concerned with the direction of farm policies in the European parliament, should vote either ALDE or possibly Green in the 2009 election. With this week’s deal socialists and conservatives have shown that their interest lies in conserving current policies. They are supported by Europe’s farm lobby but hardly by the European electorate as a whole. I believe they will pay a price for it in next year’s election.

    Per Altenberg
    candidate for European parliament (Folkpartiet liberalerna), Sweden

  2. Per: I agree with your idea for organising across party lines. I have come across socialists and conservatives who are in favour of reform and are unhappy at their own party positions. So what explains why they remain in the minority? Just look at the case of Neil Parish MEP – he voted not only against the report of the committee he chairs but against the position of his own political group.

    However I doubt that th CAP will figure at all in the 2009 elections, except from the perspective of candidates who seek to retain and reinforce current policies. It seems to me that the only people who really care enough about the CAP for it to become a voting/mobilisation issue are those that do well from it and have a strong interest in preserving it. For most of the European population, the CAP is obscure, irrelevant and uninteresting. Where were the pro-reform protesters facing down the farmers on the streets of Brussels this week?

    Unless farm policy can be transformed into something that makes an everyday impact on ordinary people, the special interest lobbies will always win. This kind of transformation has happened at certain moment: in Germany with BSE, in the UK with foot and mouth, in the Netherlands with water pollution from livestock farms. It might be starting to happen in France over pollution and maybe in the Meditrreanean regions over water use. But there is still a long way to go before ordinary people realise that the CAP is mostly working against their interests and decide to do something about it.

  3. Well, ok. You’re right. I got a little carried away. So far the track record is disappointing in terms of mobilizing the public interest for a pro-reform agenda. But I don’t think it’ll necessarily always be true.

    In Sweden, there is no support for a farm policy that is largely devoted to subsidizing the food processing industry. Your ( web site is very valuable in providing transparency in that regard. When I point out to people in Sweden that the largest recipients of EU farm support in our country are food processing industries, they are shocked. While Sweden is of course a special case in many ways, I don’t think the basic reaction is any different in most other EU MS. To build a sound, EU-friendly reform coalition in the EP together with other MEPs during the next five years is something I would very much be looking forward to. We’ll know in June if I get the chance.

  4. Jack, Per (and I hope you are elected next year!) LUFPIG has tried to provide precisely that cross party pro reform grouping in the EP over the years debating with a large group of interested parties on CAP reform, consumers, environmentalists, free traders, budgeteers, budgetary control experts (ie court of auditors) but it is tough to break through the EP’s traditional approach on CAP. The agri committee is dominated by vested interests who vote to appease their constituents. The Budgeteers or others who seek to sit in really powerful committees do not waste their time trying to influence the Agri vote – Terry Wynn used to call himself ‘Daniel in the Lion’s den’ whenever he spoke there. When Commissioner Fisher Boel first presented her proposals for the reform of the sugar regime to the Agri Committee, Terry was the only MEP in the entire crowded committee room who applauded!
    So I would make two points at this stage: unless and until we get co-decision for agricultural policy we will not get the powerful, budgetarily responsible MEPs on the Agri Committee; and unless and until the small farmers get more of a voice in the farm lobbies, the CAP will continue to change at a snail’s pace.

Comments are closed.