Sunday, October 10, 2010

Europe's Common Agriculture Policy.

The Common Agricultural Policy is a very divisive issue in Europe for so long.  Even after so many decades since its creation, Europeans argue in every EU budget about it.

In every debate on the future EU Budget European leaders bicker over it. This policy has been one of the most successful, but also one of the most controversial in Europe.

The CAP has changed a lot since it started in 1962, and continues to change today. The latest proposals, for the CAP after 2012, have 3 priorities: a) a viable food production, b) sustainable management of natural resources and c) balanced development of rural areas throughout the EU.

The CAP's budget is spent in 3 different ways: a) Income support for farmers – who receive direct payments, provided they live up to strict standards for food safety, environmental protection and animal health and welfare. These payments are fully financed by the EU, and account for 70% of the CAP budget.

b) Rural development – measures to help farmers modernize their farms and become more competitive while protecting the environment, and to keep rural communities thriving. These payments are part financed by the member countries, and account for some 20% of the CAP's budget.

c) Market support – for example when bad weather destabilizes markets. These payments account for less than 10% of the CAP budget. The aim of the CAP is to provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living, consumers with quality food at fair prices and to preserve rural heritage. (

However, the CAP receives a lot of criticism. It amounts for about a third of the EU budget and some of the new states complain that they do not receive as much as they should. Many states like the UK want to totally scrap the policy.

They claim that is harms the environment, it is unfair for the developing countries and it harms any development or competitiveness of their products and agriculture. They also note the amount of wastage that this policy creates, its ineffectiveness and the corruption or lack of productiveness it promotes, by encouraging European farmers not to produce and have access to easy money. 
While I understand there are many faults in the policy, I do not believe that the solution is to scrap it all together. Simply keep reforming it. For starters we need to start spending less on it. The farmers may protest in every cut, but realistically they can not be the only ones who benefit from a third of all European budget. There are many other sectors that we need to start investing in.

Europe's economy, as each country's individually must change. We need to invest in new industries and that can only happen by redirecting some funds from programs that we overspend, like CAP. We also need to start forming a European economy and to start finding solutions collectively. The Agricultural sector's issues should be dealt in a pan-European level. We should invest where we have potentials for profits, as a group of nations.

Now that of course is a very bold change and it will require a very strong leadership to achieve. Because it is understandable that people will protest. Many of them will have to change gradually lifestyle, career and see their job prospects, environment or options for work change.

If we look at a European map, we can easily recognize where there is potential for Agricultural growth and investment and where not. Also if we take in consideration the different climates of Europe, it is easy to see where we can cultivate what and in what quantities. And there the investments should be diverted.

Until now, many farmers were receiving CAP funds while they did not bother to cultivate their land. They were inactive farmers. Just because they owned a certain amount of land they qualified for the subsidies and that was it. Because of certain quotas, some other farms were producing too much and they were forced to destroy some of their production; that is such a waste.

As we deal with everything with bureaucracy and in such large proportions, we often lose the touch with reality and what would be best for us. And because CAP was one of the first and most successful EU policies, it is outdated and in need of constant reform to keep up with the ever changing reality of the European economy.

Some people who benefit hugely by it do not want to lose the goose who lays the golden egg, so we are having to deal with a policy that is not fully functional. And every effort for reform, is blocked by strong farming lobbies from the benefiting countries.

That does not mean that CAP must be scrapped. Rather deal with that sort of exploitative interests. I totally agree that the new states must start receiving more form the policy and become equal partners in it. Look at Poland and Romania, two countries with vast farming potential. Yet we prefer to waste valuable resources in farms of the "Old 15," just because they are spoiled in having it easy and do not want to see competition coming from the East.

How can we build on European "solidarity" like this. I do believe that CAP helps us keeping our products competitive against other regions that are enhanced by Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO),  those that come from America for example. If we scrap CAP we will have to either to adopt GMO crops too, or rely on other regions to produce our food. But we will have no chance of influencing the practices that our food is produced with.

Just look at the recent horse meat scandal. We have to know where and how our food is produced and under what standards. Only with a functioning European Agricultural policy we will be able to know what goes on our table.

And we also need to protect our farmers from the evils of globalization. How can the farmers in a small EU country like Ireland, can compete with a huge country like Brazil in beef production for example? If we scrap CAP totally, we are forcing the Irish farmers into a disadvantageous position. We should keep parts of CAP intact, but withdraw all the policies that do not work anymore. 

Countries with an interest for the spread of GMO, each for their own reasons, perhaps must compromise to the will of the majority of the European public opinion. They have an agenda, so they try to convince us for the need to scrap CAP. But our collective interests are not necessarily best represented by these few countries.

Since we have one single market in EU, there must be a unanimous agreement into the promotion of GMO. There is absolutely no point in some countries allowing them, while other blocking them. The Single Market can never work this way.

By investing in innovation and research, we can create more efficient ways of growing crops and create opportunities in diversifying our economies in all spheres, including agriculture. We have some of the best universities in the world, all we need is to pour money into the appropriate projects, to see the European project blossom and rip the full benefits.

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