Casual explanations of the persistence of the CAP put it down to the strength of the ‘farm lobby’. At a national level, there is some truth in this and the positions of member states in the Farm Council often reflect pressure from their domestic farmers’ organisations. After all, upsetting them is likely to lead to a lot of trouble and very few plaudits.
However, the European farm level organisation, COPA, has been a shadow of its former self for some time. It was originally set up at the instigation of the Commission and had a close relationship with them through to the 1970s. But since then its influence has faded. This partly reflects a failure to grasp the extent to which the agenda on the CAP, and the acceptable justifications for subsidies, has been changing.
There have been a number of internal reviews of COPA, but the latest one opens up the prospect of change. According to new Secretary-General Pekka Psonen with the EU now having 27 member states, COPA cannot afford to be hostage to any single organisation. Hence, it looks likely that the current unanimity rule will be scrapped and replaced by a system of qualified majority voting.
Will COPA’s thinking also be dragged into the 21st century? We shall have to wait and see.