Ciolos hearing at the House of Commons

On 13 January, Dacian Ciolos gave testimony to the UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee on CAP reform.

Emphasis on international competition as a justification for income support

I don’t see how our agriculture can, at the same time, be competitive in the international market and have higher level of standards than farmers in other parts of the world.

But if we don’t have this minimum support for income and compensatory payments, the risk is that a lot of farmers who can be competitive without the crosscompliance rules that we have in Europe but not in other parts of the world-who in normal situations can be competitive-will not be competitive.

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French environment ministry coming out in favour of a green CAP

In a smart move, the Ministry proposes to keep the current €10 billion CAP budget for France – thus making the proposals more appealing to its domestic audience – and it uses the budget issue as a stick/carrot: a large budget can only be justified for a green CAP.

The money is allocated to several instruments (doing away with the traditional two-pillar structure):

* €3 billion for direct income support, available to all farmers in the EU at an equal level, without any historic base. National governments could have the possibility to top up these payments. A flexible component could be introduced to soften fluctuation in prices and regional yields.

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For an Ambitious Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy

In late 2009, leading agricultural economists from all over Europe issued a declaration on ‘A Common Agricultural Policy for European Public Goods’. They proposed the abolition of market intervention and blanket income support to farmers, and outlined a more efficient, greener CAP. Since then, DG Agriculture, the European Parliament and many member states have adopted positions that closely stick to the status quo. Now a new declaration ‘For an Ambitious Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy’ has been published. All European economists who work on agricultural policy issues are invited to join the declaration online.

The declaration states:

The need for ambitious CAP reform: The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) fails to adequately fulfill important societal objectives: to enhance biodiversity and climate protection, improve water quality, preserve scenic landscapes, increase animal welfare, promote innovative, efficient farming and fair competition in the internal market, and avoid harming farmers abroad.

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Which member states pay for wasteful farm income support?

So, is examination of member states’ financial net contributions a shameful exercise: hiking up national egoism and ignoring the larger benefits of European integration? Not at all. If CAP funds were spent exclusively on European public goods, such as climate change mitigation or the protection of endangered species, national bottom lines would indeed not matter. The money should be allocated wherever greenhouse gas reductions can be achieved most cheaply or where the need for wildlife protection is the greatest.

But as things stand, CAP subsidies are mostly free handouts to member states and their farming communities – they do not create commensurate value for European citizens.

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The historic roots of agricultural protectionism in Europe

Great Britain went through a protectionist phase in agriculture after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815, lasting for three decades until the repeal of the Corn Law in 1846. In food-importing Great Britain, the interruption of trade through Napoleon’s Continental Blockade had driven up food prices and farmers resisted the subsequent resumption of trade in peacetime. But the historic roots of continental agricultural protectionism, I always thought, were somewhat more recent, namely the transport cost revolution of the second half of the 19th century. As it became economically efficient to transport grain by train from the US Midwest to the East Coast, and then by ship to Europe, agrarian interests defended the higher rents on scarcer European land against the international convergence of factor prices.

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A tale of two visions

The reformist zeal of the 15 professors in the German scientific advisory board on agriculture is remarkable, and their statement (in German) largely concurs with the declaration for ‘A Common Agricultural Policy for European Public Goods’ signed by experts from all across Europe half a year ago. The statement even goes beyond the recent proposals (in German) made by the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU): agricultural economists overtake environmental experts in their demands for CAP reform.

According to the scientific advisory board on agriculture, market price, direct income and farm-level investment support should be removed. There is no reason to fear a massive breakdown in EU agriculture: 61% of German agricultural area is rented out, so that large share of direct payments does not benefit farming anyway; bioenergy makes it increasingly attractive to continue farming; structural change will allow significant cost reductions to make farming more competitive; several agricultural sub-sectors are economically viable, and have been so for a long time, without receiving significant subsidies and tariff protection; the extra costs of higher EU standards are low for most farms (less than €50/ha); and targeted payments to maintain agriculture in areas threatened by undesirable land abandonment can compensate adverse effects.

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Who will guard the guardians?

It is EU practice (and legislation) to subject the CAP to a sophisticated system of evaluations. For each member state’s rural development program (RDP), an ex-ante, mid-term and ex-post evaluation is being undertaken by independent bodies. Other studies, commissioned by DG Agri or DG Research, examine specific CAP instruments across Europe on a rolling basis. In addition, the European Court of Auditors scrutinizes selected CAP instruments (here you can find summaries of their CAP-related studies).

But how independent are the evaluators? How strong is their mandate? How useful are the findings? In a recent article in EuroChoices, Angela Bergschmidt, an evaluator from the Federal Research Institute in charge of agriculture in Germany, offers a bleak account:

[It is] a useless evaluation; costly, often low in scientific quality, unread and unnoticed by policymakers and the wider public.

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EP draft report: Whereas all this is nonsense

The EP own-initiative report on the post-2013 CAP is taking shape as a new draft has become available (dated 24.3.2010). Though it is better packaged, and sexed-up with a ‘green growth’ tag, the content is just as dull and conservative as the earlier draft. The report captures the intellectual deficiency of the CAP-insider bubble.

The draft report suggests 5 ‘key building blocks’: area-based direct income support, climate change mitigation payments, payments to areas with natural handicaps, payments for biodiversity and environmental protection, and green growth subsidies with a focus on renewable energy. The first two payments are to be fully financed by the EU, and the other three co-financed by the member states.

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EP own-initiative report on the post-2013 CAP

The Rapporteur of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (ComAgri), George Lyon, has presented his take on the post-2013 CAP. Once the document has been discussed and amended by ComAgri, it will be voted upon first in ComAgri (June) and then in the EP plenary (July).

The starting point of the draft already chills expectations: “The Common Agricultural Policy has been largely successful in fulfilling the objectives it was set out to accomplish so far.”

Three groups of objectives are identified. 1) Supporting economic needs – including an EU agriculture competitive on world markets, EU food security in an unstable world context, and the valuable contribution EU agriculture and the downstream agri-food sector make to EU growth and employment.

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The Socialist Revolution

1789: the people of Paris take the Bastille. 1848: republican upheaval all across Europe. 1917: the Communists take power in Russia. 2010: the European Socialists & Democrats declare that the CAP needs to be revolutionized. Admittedly, the S&D do not pretend to lay claim to quite such daring historical parallels – but there is no doubt that they make bold claims: the ‘one step at a time while maintaining the original philosophy’ approach of the 1992, 2000, 2003 and 2008/09 reforms has been ‘overly timid’. Explaining that progressives are those who anticipate and guide ambitious reform processes, whereas conservatives only tackle the issues when forced to do so by the emergence of crises or external constraints, they conclude that, ‘the reform of the CAP over the last 15 years has generally followed this second path.’

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