Why CAP reform happened

The latest Journal of Common Market Studies (vol.47, 2, March 2009) contains an important article exploring the determinants of CAP reform. It is written by Alan Swinbank, a distinguished agricultural economist and a leading proponent of reform and Arlindo Cunha who was chair of the Agriculture Council in 1992 at the time of the MacSharry reform.

They have used a particular method, the Delphi technique, to survey a range of key influentials including former Agriculture Commissioners Ray MacSharry and Franz Fischler. It allows them to analyse how the drivers of reform have changed over time through the 1992, 1999 and 2003 reforms.

Among the key findings were:

1. The Agriculture Commissioner has a key entreprenurial role (as I argued in my 1997 book on the CAP, ‘the Commissioner makes a difference’

2. International trade negotiations were a major driver of reform (in this case providing confirmation of a widely held view)

3. Pressures from environmental groups, and from the media and public opinion, were identified as of growing importance, from a low base in 1992 to real significance in 2003. By contrast, farmers’ organisations, the food processing indsutries, consumers and academics were judged to have had little influence on the reform process.

The European Parliament was seen as being of little influence in the reform process. Pressures from the European Council and the finance ministers in ECOFIN were seen to be more important in promoting the reform agenda than the Farm Council. Views on the role of the Farm Council were more divergent than almost any other subject covered in the survey. Some thought it had been conservative for a long time, running behind events, others took the view that it softened the Commission position.

The need for a better relationship between agriculture and the environment was seen as of little importance in 1992 but became particularly important in 2003. The need to find more funds for rural development also became important in 1999 and 2003. Ensuring the international competitiveness of agriculture also showed an increasing importance over the three reforms. Consumer concerns about food safety also became more important over time, but the importance of the ‘European Model of Agriculture’ seems to have peaked in the Agenda 2000 discussions when it was first presented.

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2 Replies to “Why CAP reform happened”

  1. The Commissioner certainly does make a difference. As can be seen at the moment when we have a Commissioner who is not really interested in finishing the job begun by MacSharry and Fischler. With any luck we’ll have a new Commissioner ready for the increasingly widely trailed 2011 reform. Time for a ‘runners and riders’ piece?

    The one finding that I have a hard time believing is the notion that farmers organisations had little impact on the reforms. This just can’t be true. They are the best-resourced, best-connected and most vigorous lobbyists on agriculture policy so to say that they were trumped by green groups that have a fraction of their muscle is just not credible. And I think the outcomes of the reforms bears this out. There is always an attempt to ‘make farmers whole’.

  2. I think that the farmers’ organisations have become less effective over time, partly because they have not kept up with the way the debate has moved on. Their pressure is seen as more effective than that of environmental organisations in 1992 and 1999, but much less effective in 2003. There is no separate category for input industries who are often influential.

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