Inside the echo-chamber

Today and tomorrow, DG Agriculture is organising a tightly controlled, invitation-only ‘public conference’ on the future of the CAP. As someone who has previously expressed mildly dissenting opinions I’ve not been invited. It’s probably a small mercy as life is really too short to spend two days listening to an assorted crowd of farm union officials, docile civil servants and tame academics parrot the DG Agriculture mantra: ‘we need to preserve the current CAP and its budget to… protect the environment / avert mass starvation / keep farmers from committing suicide (delete as appropriate)’.

There are a few people on the speakers list who might be expected to take issue with DG Agriculture’s infamous doublethink but in a crafty move they have mostly been appointed as session chairs or rapporteurs.… Read the rest

BirdLife takes aim at Lyon

On the letters pages of this week’s European Voice, Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at Birdlife International, has launched a stinging attack on the European Parliament’s agriculture committee. It’s worth republishing in full.

Dear Sir,

The result of this week’s vote on George Lyon’s report, ‘The Future of the CAP after 2013’, is clear evidence that the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee is more interested in protecting the privilege of vested interests than creating a policy fit for the 21st century.

The report robustly defends the direct payment system, yet provides no evidence for its claims that direct payments help ensure European food security, meaningfully stabilise farming incomes or secure environmental benefits.

Read the rest

The worst case scenario examined

A new study from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands has attempted to model the effects of the abolition of EU farm subsidies. The authors of the report state that their study is very much a ‘worst case assessment’ since,

“It does not take into account farmers’ behaviour, although the past has shown that farmers do adapt to changes in the Common Agricultural Policy. It also assumes a fixed cost structure and abstracts from changes in factor prices and structural change, all elements which would reduce the impact of reform on farm incomes.”

The report makes it clear that the effect of subsidies – and their removal – is not felt evenly across Europe.… Read the rest

The future of direct payments

As Valentin’s blog post yesterday explains, the CAP is not only a European agriculture policy, it’s a European income redistribution policy. The centrepiece of the CAP is the €42 billion a year in ‘direct aids’ or income support to farmers, funded entirely from the pooled EU budget. Valentin points out that in an era of fiscal austerity, the idea of billions of euros moving from one country’s taxpayers to another country’s farmers is likely to be politically controversial. Particularly when the biggest payouts go to Europe’s wealthiest citizens and most profitable companies.

As national governments decide by how much they are going to pay of nurses and school teachers, how many university places they will cut and which taxes they are going to have to increase, the idea that aids to farmers are ringfenced from cuts will come as a surprise to many.… Read the rest

A three pillar CAP?

Attila Jambor and David Harvey presented a new paper to the Annual Conference of the Agricultural Economics Society a few months ago in which they argue that “two pillars are not enough for a sustainable future for the CAP”. They note that:

“The CAP, post 2013, is supposed by many to be required to contribute to meeting the major and diverse challenges of: global food security and climate change; environmental and land conservation and management; rural development; agrarian transition; food quality and safety; bioenergy and biofuels; regional and sectoral competitive (dis)advantages; market volatility and business risk and, no doubt, other issues as well.”

Read the rest

The development angle

“Waste at home and damage abroad”. That is how one Member of the European Parliament described the common agricultural policy. Gabrielle Zimmer, a German MEP who sits on the parliament’s development committee, was speaking at a conference convened last month by the United Nations Millenium Campaign to look at the impact of Europe’s farm tariffs and subsidies on developing countries.

According to Eckhard Deutscher, Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and another participant in the same meeting,

“The biggest challenge the EU’s development aspirations are facing is the lack of policy coherence. The trade, development, agriculture and environmental policies are simply out of sync with regard to developing countries.”

Read the rest

EU boosts farm subsidy millionaires by more than 20 per cent in 2009

Today, revealed the results of an intensive two-day harvest of new farm subsidy data published by the European Union’s member states in accordance with the new laws on disclosure of beneficiaries of EU funds.

The data, relating to payments made in 2009, has been harvested from twenty seven government websites, in some cases using advanced computer programming techniques. So far, data on 38.3 billion euros of payments have been harvested (from a total CAP budget of 55 billion euros). In some cases member states have made the data easy to access, in other cases they appear to take deliberate steps to block access.… Read the rest

Poll Shock: Europe loves the CAP!

Every so often DG Agriculture commissions an opinion poll to find out how much European citizens love the common agricultural policy. As a democractic exercise it is somewhat reminiscent of elections in the former German Democratic Republic (99 percent for the communists!). The result of these ‘Eurobarometer’ surveys, which are carried out by TNS Opinion, a reputable polling company, is never in doubt: European citizens love the CAP a lot.

Among the findings of the recently released poll are the following:

  • Nine out of ten of Europeans regard agriculture and rural areas as important for the future. I’m rather curious about the one in ten who don’t.
Read the rest

Sarkozy and Cameron on collision course?

David Cameron, leader of a British Conservative Party that is well ahead in the opinion polls just weeks ahead of a General Election, has already ruffled feathers across La Manche, with reported jibes about the diminutive stature of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is reeling from personal life scandals and a drubbing in regional elections. The remarks provoked a reaction from Paris, which accused the British Opposion leader of lacking respect for the French Head of State.

Such a trifling spat may be just the start of a tricky Anglo-French relationship over the future of EU budget, in particular the €60 billion common agricultural policy and Britain’s special budget rebate.… Read the rest

CAP Reform Conversations: Ariel Brunner, BirdLife International

In the second in a series of in-depth conversations with leading figures in the debate on the future of the European Union’s common agricultural policy, Jack Thurston speaks with Ariel Brunner, Head of EU Policy at BirdLife International.

BirdLife International is “a global partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. BirdLife Partners operate in over one hundred countries and territories worldwide.”

Anyone who has been in and around Brussels policy circles over the past few years will know that Ariel Brunner is among the most knowledgeable and persuasive advocates for radical reform of the CAP.… Read the rest