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.’
The S&D give two reasons a ‘New Start’ (yes, in capital letters, just like the ‘New Deal’ they are calling for) is imperative. The first is the common environmental public goods rationality (climate change, water management, renewable energy, biodiversity, soil erosion). The second is a combination of social concerns: reducing regional disparities, redirecting subsidies from the most competitive to more needy farm holdings, and creating employment (‘the granting of aid must absolutely be linked to job creation in rural areas in order to maintain, bring to life and develop the agricultural area in all regions of Europe’).
Concerns about employment and vitality in rural regions seem to point towards the strengthening of the non-agricultural component in rural development (Axes 3 of Pillar 2). But the document takes a most interesting turn in the opposite direction: the ‘hotchpotch’ of Pillar 2 should be cleared up, all CAP subsidies should be merged into one pillar, and all current CAP instruments that no longer fit should be transferred to the regional and cohesion policy.
I have a number of problems with the document. I am concerned about the objective of stimulating agricultural employment through the CAP and do not see the need to have a generalized payment link to natural handicaps. Furthermore, I very much like the extension of national co-financing of CAP subsidies, which the document rejects without further explanation.
Nevertheless, my overall assessment is strongly positive. The level of change envisioned is outstanding, and the general tone is rational/progressive (‘instruments must be better focused on objectives; priority must be given to expenditure that is more socially useful, such as financing of public goods made available to society; and handouts (direct subsidies) must be replaced with measures encouraging those involved to take account of the new requirements (new contractual approaches). Public subsidies should be given to farmers in return for their provision of environmental services and landscape management.’)
Comparing this statement to the stubborn defense of vested interests that is endemic in the EP Committee on Agriculture, it is a great step forward. And this is all the more important since Paolo De Castro, the chairman of the EP Committee on Agriculture, is a Socialist.