UK Conservatives endorse the CAP

John Gummer MP, the former UK Agriculture Minister who is currently advising Conservative Party leader David Cameron on farm policy, has taken a swipe those in his party who call for a repatriation of the EU’s common agricultural policy:

“There is no doubt at all that unless we get a kind of common deal in the EU farmers will get no money at all. No British government of any kind is prepared to foot the bill. Anybody who dares to talk about repatriation doesn’t care about farming because you won’t have it.”

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Musical chairs at the French Ministry for Agriculture

Michel BarnierThe surprise parliamentary election defeat last Sunday of Alain Juppé, a leading member of newly-appointed French cabinet has forced President Nicolas Sarkozy into an unplanned cabinet reshuffle. Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Christine Lagarde has been promoted to the post of Finance Minister. The resulting gap at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing has been filled by Michel Barnier, who until 2005 served as European Commissioner for regional policy.

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One vision, two steps

It sounds like a Maoist slogan, but farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel set out a ‘one vision, two steps’ plan for the reform of the CAP at the recent Agra Europe conference in London. As she has made clear before, the forthcoming Health Check which will address the period up until 2013 is seen largely as a tidying up exercise rather than an opportunity for further fundamental reform. The Commission is currently preparing a Green Paper on the Health Check but this is not expected to be ready until after the summer.

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A food fight over the farm bill

As the European Union gears up for the CAP Health Check in 2008, the United States is already deep in debate over the Farm Bill, which is due for renewal this year. Just as the CAP sets Europe’s farm policies, the Farm Bill (each one lasting for 5 years) defines agriculture policy for the US. And just like the CAP, the Farm Bill is hostage to the narrow producer interests that benefit directly from the policy: big, industrial agribusiness and farmers who monoculture the five big subsidized crops: corn, soya beans, wheat, rice and sugar. ‘Outsiders’ such as consumers, taxpayers, conservationists and those speaking up for farmers in poor developing countries rarely get much of a look in.

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So, goodbye then, President Chirac

he announcement that he will be stepping down as French President by Jacques Chirac reminds us that for a long time France has had a head of state and government who has also seen himself as Minister of Agriculture. Two of his last public appearances were at the Paris agricultural show and a European summit in Brussels, the site of his many battles in defence of French farming subsidies. Chirac owns a chateau in the Massif Central which is one of the poorest and most sparsely populated rural areas of France.

The Financial Times commented, ‘His near-umbilical attachment to the country’s farmers throughout his career, which included a spell as agriculture minister, means he can at least count on them to be saddened that the Chirac era is coming to an end.’

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Fischer Boel: one vision, two steps

Speaking at the annual conference of the National Farmers’ Union, EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel set out her priorities for next year’s CAP ‘health check’. She described her approach as ‘one vision, two steps’, the first step being the health check and the second step being the EU budget review scheduled for 2008/09. It will be very interesting to see how successful she will be in keeping these two steps separate, as the sheer size of the CAP in relation to the rest of the EU budget (in 2005 it was a shade under 50%) makes it impossible to have any meaningful budget discussions without addressing the future of the CAP.

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