Farming: Reforming CAP – or sunning themselves in Limassol
HERE we are in September and most of the hairst in Scotland still to be taken in this miserable late summer.
However, as the farmers look out on their rain-sodden fields, they have the consolation that the European agri bureaucrats and politicians are getting back from their summer holidays and are raring to sort out the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Well, that last bit was possibly too optimistic, as one of the first moves under the Cypriot presidency is to have an informal agricultural council in that well-known tourist spot, Limassol.
Just as the farming community has a mountain of work to get through in the coming weeks so do the politicians. They do seem to be making a rather leisurely start to their work load, with the main items to be discussed in the sun of Cyprus being climate change, water shortages and land abandonment.
Now I would have thought that more critical and urgent discussions should be taking place on the rising cost of food, food security in the future and how the farming industry might lead the various members of the European Union facing economic disaster out of their recession.
On their trip to Cyprus, the politicians are not even spending much time on how the next CAP will emerge. Perhaps they are thinking, if they close their eyes, all those other more immediate problems will disappear.
But these problems will not fade away. I believe there is a tremendous opportunity to cast aside chunks of the current CAP proposals and replace them with something much simpler, much more focussed on food production, with as close links to social benefits as to environmental ones and for good measure more suited to the agriculture and culture of the individual member states.
I cannot help thinking the current proposals, with more than 7,500 amendments waiting to be dealt with by the European Parliament, with its rigid emphasis on certain environmental policies and with little recognition of food production is the wrong policy at the wrong time.
I do not deny that Commissioner Ciolos was well intentioned in his original set of proposals, which at every twist in the tortuous path towards completion become ever more complex.
I do not deny there is merit in ensuring the taxpayer gets some reward in visits to the countryside for the cash that goes into the CAP budget but the present suggestions, as NFU Scotland revealed last week, would cripple or possibly destroy farming in the more fragile parts of this country.
There are but three strands to my slimline CAP. The first would see the coupling of support for a larger percentage of production in sheep and cattle than is currently permitted. This would help food production. This would help many remote areas where livestock production is the only possible option for farming. No such link is needed in any cropping.
Environmentally, there should be a menu of options for farmers to voluntarily opt into. Those farmers doing so would be rewarded and those who decided it was not for them would miss out on the cash.
And as I have previously proposed, there should be an economic link with support being linked to employment.
There would of course be other bits to my CAP dealing with such important matters as supporting newcomers from day one and stopping payments to non-producers immediately.
Each policy could be explained on one sheet of A4 paper. That same sheet would also inform as to how the policy would operate and be enforced.
Apart from the fact that the paper industry would suffer from a much-reduced demand from the EU with such short policy papers, it would provide the answers to today’s and tomorrow’s problems rather than sinking into a bureaucratic mire.
Such a route would be a first for the EU as the practice has always been for the agricultural commissioner to guide as much of his policy through Brussels as is possible.
But we are in a different era with many more member states to please or appease; with another block of decision makers in the European Parliament to mollify but most importantly we are facing a world food production crisis not seen since the Second World War. Oldies will recall this was the genesis for the European Common Market where a freedom from hunger was one of the main tenets.
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Friday 24 May 2013
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