Thursday, 15 May 2008

UK blows the gaffe on its own CAP bashing

The Commission is set to publish its proposals for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy next week and already the various stalls are being set out as to how far such reforms can go and in which direction. Once again the arguments of old by the French, Germans and the British are being replayed.

In this week's European Voice much is made of the "Franco-German threat to CAP health check" and their opposition to any real radical changes to the CAP. In April the French Farm Minister, Michel Barnier, said EU farm subsidies were in no way to blame for the current rise in food prices - ""What we are now witnessing in the world is the consequence of too much free-market liberalism....we can't leave feeding people to the mercy of the market. We need a public policy, a means of intervention and stabilisation". He also recommended that rather than radically overhauling the CAP, the EU should instead look to export the CAP as a model for the countries of Africa and Latin America to adopt as a response to rising demand for food, i.e. developing countries should be supported to create similar regional farm aid systems. In addition, France has proposed a tightening up of the EU's quality and health regulations for food to restrict imports from countries outside the EU that do not meet European standards - thereby introducing a "new policy of European preference".

The German Farm Minister, Horst Seehofer, has made similar remarks about retaining the status quo and EU farm subsidies in light of the current global food crisis

Over in the UK camp Alistair Darling blew the gaffe in his letter to EU finance ministers calling for the abolition of all import tariffs on agricultural commodities. EU Finance Ministers are meeting in June to discuss how to tackle rising food prices. The UK used this as an opportunity to bash the CAP. Once again the CAP is blamed for all the ills of the day with the Chancellor calling for an end to all direct payments to EU farmers and focusing on ensuring EU and global food security and that the EU's " own policies do not inflate the cost of food within the EU".

For the UK government to say they want to scrap the CAP before any real discussion has taken place was not a credible position to have taken and can only but undermine the UK's credibility in this crucial debate. The CAP health check offers an opportunity to start a discussion about the further reform of Europe's agriculture policy. Bashing it without any concrete proposals for the way forward achieves nothing and tells you a lot about why the UK ends up in the EU corner sulking. Its also all the more reason why Scotland needs to have a stronger voice in the EU.

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