On a visit to China a few years ago I met an elderly professor who had been sent with his students to the countryside during the Maoist period for ‘re-education’ by the peasants. He struck a deal with the local peasants that allowed them to work on their books two days a week. Now farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, a large-scale farmer with her husband in Denmark, has decided that Commission officials in DG Agri need re-education. She considers that they are too detached from farmers and don’t understand their problems.
The so-called Harvest Experience programme means that all agriculture staff will be sent to stay on farms from 2010. One goal is to encourage Commission officials to use simpler language.
It will be interesting to see where the farmer hosts are found from. I suspect that many of them will be drawn from farmer organisations and will have an axe to grind.
Historically, DG VI as it once was had a reputation of being particularly close to farmers. Its head official was always drawn from France and was usually close to large-scale French grain interests. Many of the officials were French and those Brits who worked there were usually Francophiles. One compensation was that it was said to have the best canteen in the Commission.
The Kinnock reforms ended the French domination at top level. Mind you, a lot of nonsense still comes out of DG Agri. A British academic was telling me about a talk given to students by one of its officials. He claimed that the livelihood of one person in five in Europe depended on the CAP. He worked this out by adding up those working in farming, those in food processing and those in input industries.
It was pointed out to him that it would be possible to have a healthy and competitive food sector in Europe without subsidy and protection.