By approving a set of proposals to water down the already modest Commission proposals for the health check, the agriculture committee of the European Parliament has reinforced its reputation for thinking rooted firmly in the past and largely captured by the narrow set of producer interests who do well from the CAP status quo. As I have argued before, the lack of ambition of the health check is playing into the hands of the growing number of those who would like to see the CAP swept away altogether.
The committee’s health check amendments argue for a slower phasing out of milk quotas, less modulation and less funding for farmland conservation and rural development policies. The committee voted for extra financial help for dairly and livestock farms and new EU funding for disaster relief, insurance schemes and mutual funds for farmers. MEPs also adopted a series of amendment calling for the retention of market intervention or management instruments in the grain, meat and dairy sectors.
For those who are in favour of CAP reform, the stalling of the Lisbon Treaty ratification process has a very obvious silver lining: without Lisbon, the Parliament continues to be denied powers of co-decision on farm policy. I have always subscribed to the view that political institutions must earn their powers. In my view, the Parliament has a long way to go before earning the power of co-decision on the CAP. The agriculture committee is stuffed with farmers, former farmers and the representatives of farming interests and it advances a wholly producer-oriented agenda. It has a lot in common with the agriculture committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives.
French agriculture minister Michel Barnier evidently shares my assessment but sees the reactionary disposition of the Parliament as an opportunity to strengthen his alliance to further water down the Commission’s health check propopsals and turn the clock back on the CAP. Barnier is reported to have promised a form of ‘informal co-decision’ with the Parliament on the health check for the last three months of the French EU presidency. I’m sure the Commission is just loving that.