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The health check paper: Homeopathy rather than surgery?

The recently leaked Commission Green paper sets the scene for the upcoming health check. What emerges at the moment is a very cautious and minimalist approach, in line with what the Commissioner has been promising for a while. Two things seem striking. The first is the choice to ignore the budget review debate. The second is the lack of courage in confronting the CAP’s failings.
The health check focuses entirely on the short term- the current period running up to 2013. This choice can be questioned, when the Commissioner Grybauskaite is publicly suggesting, in not so veiled terms, that CAP funds would be better spent on other “more modern” policies. One would expect DG Agri to build a solid case for the long term future of the CAP, and use the health check to prepare the CAP for a future where subsidising farmers might not go unquestioned. This would require canvassing a vision for the CAP- what it should be about and how should it deliver on its objectives. What seems to emerge is rather a proposal looking backwards, at “completing” the Fischler reform, rather than forward, at building stepping stones for a future policy.
The second disappointment is in the lack of courage shown in confronting the reality of the CAP. The Commission essentially says that the CAP has been thoroughly reformed and is now in perfect shape. This is not credible. On the environmental side, widespread evidence is showing that the CAP is failing to address crisis areas such biodiversity loss and water resources depletion. On the legitimacy side, it is hard to see how a policy spending the vast majority of money on payments that have no obvious purpose, can be considered to be as solid as to go unquestioned.
The actual issues and proposals raised by the green paper are rather better. The proposal to increase modulation is certainly welcome, as is the recognition of the need to do something about climate change. Positive is also the recognition of the environmental impacts of set aside abolition, though there can be doubts on whether just relying on voluntary agri-environment can deliver what is needed.
The overall level of ambition is however very law. The proposed modulation rate is much lower than the one proposed by Fischler in 2002. Pillar I seems not to be in for any major change, except for cosmetic intervention to mask the unfair distribution of support, while no suggestion is put forward to ensure this spending delivers something for society. The overall tone is one of great caution and minimal ambition.
Time will tell where this approach will lead. As things stand, it seems very unlikely that “health check” will develop into the robust therapy that is needed for the CAP. There’s not much to be upbeat about, if you care for the EU’s environment or for taxpers’ money. But maybe even the farming lobby should start asking itself whether dodging painful treatment and sticking with homeopathy is in its best interest. On the long run, the prospect of major surgery will just loom larger…

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