Experts on agricultural policy are often asked why the ‘farm lobby’ has been so successful although, of course, at EU level its influence has declined over time. In part this has been because it has been losing the debate and has often shown insufficient flexibility in responding to new framings of issues.
Nevertheless, one should never underestimate the ability of producer interests to use new concerns to their advantage. In the past, for example, British farmers used concerns about the balance of payments to justify the subsidies they received. Food security concerns were significant during the formation of the CAP with recent experiences of food shortages in the minds of decision-makers. These concerns were reinforced by arguments about what might happen if the Cold War got a bit hotter.
With world supply and demand being tighter than it has been for some time, farming journalists and others have been trying to propel food security back on to the EU policy agenda. They appear to have scored at least a partial hit with farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.
She said that Europe was producing enough to meet its own needs but had to keep one eye on growing demand around the world and discuss the question of ‘food security’. ‘It is obvious that the whole discussion on energy security started when suddenly the Russians cut off the pipelines. And it is obvious that we would want to think about food security. We can discuss buffer stocks just as you have for oil today.’ EU rules require countries to keep three months’ supply of oil in storage.
The analogy with energy security is an imperfect one as there is no one country with a pipeline of food on which Europe depends that it can turn off to great effect (although the moratorium on exports being operated by Russia and the Ukraine has had an impact on world prices).
Let’s hope that just when we thought that intervention buying was fading away, it won’t be rejuvenated as ‘buffer stocks’. One of the greatest weaknesses of the CAP was always the creation of a risk free market through the purchase of surpluses by government agencies.