7, 2003: When British and French farmers agree on
an issue, it's worth investigating. Back in January the European
Commission published its latest proposal for reforms of the
European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. These latest
proposals clearly cut farm production subsidies.
French farmers were the first to forcefully reject the plan.
France profits more from farm production subsidies than any
other European Union country.
British farmers declared that the new policy does not fit
in the United Kingdom. They too reject the reduction in production
subsidies but focus their criticism on the proposal to reduce
the aid payments according to farm size. Larger farms face
bigger percentage cuts, and the UK's farm size is much bigger
than most of Europe.
But this latest plan for reform, which "happens"
to cut production
subsidies, has a much bigger agenda.
The most significant goal is a simplified, efficient administration
by the European Commission of what all the member states do
in the name of the Common Agricultural Policy.
The reform proposes a single farm payment, independent of
production and based on the average of whatever subsidies
a farm received during the previous three years. No lengthy
application forms backed by proof from satellite imagery and
animal passports to show how much land is in production or
how many animals are kept. Just a single farm income payment.
A second innovation is just as dramatic. It is a response
long-standing criticism of the Common Agricultural Policy:
that productionsubsidies divide farmers from their markets,
suppress innovation, and destroy economic and environmental
The new payments will be linked to respect for the environment,
food safety, occupational safety and countryside stewardship.
As long as a farmer keeps his land in agricultural condition,
the farmer will continue to receive the single farm payment,
irrespective of the amount of food produced. Farmers who deliver
an attractive, healthy countryside will be rewarded, making
the environment a selling point, not a sore point, for the
The rationale for this major shift in European farm policy
has been building for a decade. Production subsidies paid
to farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy are now seen
as part of the problem rather than the solution. A new guiding
principle has emerged: use public money to pay for public
goods that the public wants and needs.
This is an innovative approach to agricultural subsidies.
Will Europe's environment benefit? No doubt. I am skeptical,
however, of the claims by European politicians that their
new approach will reduce over-production. Total subsidies
for European agriculture and the countryside are not declining.
Farmers, with their ingenuity and entrepreneurship, should
not be underestimated.
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