With the ink barely dry on the Council of Ministers’ final compromise deal on the health check, leading members of the European Parliament are laying into each other after a day of chaotic voting on the Parliament’s approach to the CAP. In a podcast interview yesterday, Paulo Casaca MEP (Socialist Group) told me that the Parliament was ‘lost’ and suffering from a lack of political leadership, something he thought could come from the Commission or from within the Parliament itself. Meanwhile Neil Parish MEP, chairman of the Agriculture Committee and a senior member of the right-leaning European Peoples Party – European Democrats grouping, voted against his own committee’s report and against the EPP-ED position.
“I would have preferred that Parliament support the original proposals of the European Commission which would better equip Europe’s agriculture sector for the challenges facing it in the 21st century”
Speaking on behalf of the Greens – European Free Alliance grouping, German MEP Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf regretted that the Parliament was sticking to the policies of the past:
“The European Parliament today passed up the chance to call for a future-oriented agriculture policy. Instead it has supported a weaker position than the Commission’s initial proposal. Plans to properly address climate change, biodiversity loss, soil fertility and water management have been blocked and disappointingly few funds have been re-allocated to rural development.
“This is a victory for the agro-industry lobby, which has succeeded in maintaining the status quo of subsidies with minimal strings attached. Those that claim to represent farmers are in reality demanding public money to further industrialise food production, when what we need is a real shift towards sustainable rural development with social and environmental factors fully taken into consideration.
His sentiments were echoed by his British colleague Caroline Lucas MEP:
“At a time of food and energy crisis, EU policy continues to be biased heavily in favour of energy-hungry industrialised production. This comes at the expense of any substantial support for local, sustainable or organic agriculture.”
I am ashamed to say I have no idea how one finds out how MEPs have voted (is this symptomatic of the fabled EU ‘democratic deficit’?) and the Romanian think tank that runs a vote-tracking site seems not to have updated it since May 2008. If anyone reading has the voting lists, please post a link in the comments or send by email to news (at) caphealthcheck (dot) eu.
In one sense none of this matters since the Parliament has no legislative role on agriculture policy. But one day it might and even if they have no formal powers, MEPs are well-placed to change the ‘mood music’ around the future of agriculture policy and put forward imaginative ideas for how it can be improved. They can hold hearings, commission research reports, go on television and radio, lobby the Commission, build alliances…
And the next time the EU makes big decisions on the CAP, the European Parliament could well have co-decision powers, if the Lisbon Treaty has been ratified. To date, the Parliament has done little more than act as a modest break on the reform direction set by the Commission. Groups have been divided and prey to special interest pleading by powerful lobbies representing beneficiaries of the status quo. The disarray over the health check suggests that Mr Casaca’s analysis is right: the Parliament lacks a vision for agriculture, lacks leadership on the issue and doesn’t have the means to make evidence-based decisions. All this suggests it has a long way to go if it is going to exert a meaningful role on behalf of European citizens on food, farming and rural affairs. The time to start working on this this is now.