Conflicting views and demands over CAP with regard to the reduction in farm subsidies that is about a whopping one third of EU budget.
Farm subsidies represent the largest slice of the EU’s proposed budget for 2014 -2020. Negotiations are at a critical stage on revamping the Common Agricultural Policy. Though reduced, the CAP will still cost 50 billion euros a year, more than one-third the total EU budget.
Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos is under intense pressure from farmers, environmental and consumer groups, Member States and the European Parliament. The largest benefactor, France, faces countries in the east asking why their cows and cropland are worth far less in subsidies.
Angry taxpayers like farmsubsidy.org want to slash the payments. In Brussels, farmers and consumers from more than 20 EU countries held a Good Food March to protest the CAP proposals.
In the developing world, there is an outcry that European and US food subsidies are crushing their farmers with cheap food. How to reconcile the clashing interests? Mr. Ciolos is between a rock and a hard place.
To discuss the issue, The Network spoke to Roger Waite, the spokesperson for Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Ciolos. They also spoke to Lee Rotherham, a Research Fellow at the Tax Payers’ Alliance, who says the EU needs to scrap the CAP. His study Food for Thought says the CAP costs every family more than £400 or about 470 euros, a year. The Network also spoke to Ursula Hudson, the president of Slow Food Germany and a member of the Executive Committee of Slow Food International. The NGO says the CAP should restructure European agriculture around sustainable small-and medium-scale production.
Chris Burns: “A question to all of you, starting with Roger. The budget fight is far from over. The European Parliament now has, for the first time, co-decision powers with the member states on the CAP. Will they, should they, go along with the reform as it is?”
Roger Waite: “Well, we think they should. Heads of government have set a budget now, and what we need to do is, with the European Parliament and the Member States, we need to finalise how the money is spent. What we want is a fairer CAP, which means there’s a fairer distribution of funds between the Member States but also within the Member States. For example, that also includes a cap on how much certain individual farms can receive.”
Chris Burns: “OK, Lee, what do you think, scrap the CAP?
Lee Rotherham: “Yes, absolutely. I mean, the question as you originally placed it, was: should MEPs go along with the deal? Yes. The trouble is, of course, the MEPs are in charge of a large budget, they like having a large budget, so a lot of them won’t want to do that. I would go a lot further than they are suggesting: even the CAP run by the UK itself would save UK taxpayers one billion pounds, running an identical CAP with just UK taxpayers paying for UK farmers.
Chris Burns: “Ursula, what do you think about it?”
Ursula Hudson: “We should go ahead with reform but real reform, in the way Roger outlined it earlier. We need a reform for a fairer CAP, a greener CAP, and if we can achieve that, then we should go ahead with it.”
Chris Burns: “Under the summit-approved budget plan, agricultural spending is to fall about 13%, making up about 38% of the total EU budget over the next seven years. Do the cuts go too far or not far enough? Lee?”
Lee Rotherham: “Nowhere near far enough. If you look at where the money is actually being spent, there’s a huge discrepancy between the various countries. So the UK, on a per capita, per farm basis, gets about 5/8th of the deal compared to Italian farmers and 6/10th of what it would do with respect to the Germans. And the French get about 20% of the CAP. So there’s a huge discrepancy even within how the budget itself is distributed.”
Chris Burns: “Roger, how can this go on the way it is? Is this sustainable?”
Roger Waite: “Well, what we’re trying to do is to have a better allocation. And the trouble is because these direct payments in particular play such a large part in farmer incomes, we really can’t make changes overnight. We have a seven-year period coming up, and this is why we’re looking to make changes in the course of that seven-year period to have a fairer distribution not only between the Member States but within the Member States.”
Chris Burns: “Now the European Commission, your Commission, is proposing a system of convergence reducing income disparities between Eastern and Western Europe. Some say the reform doesn’t go far enough. Ursula, what do you think?”