EU asks public what it thinks of CAP reform
The European Commissionâ€™s agriculture department launched a public debate this week on the future reform of Europeâ€™s common agricultural policy (CAP) from 2014. It wants everyone â€“ not just farmers and politicians â€“ to have their say on how the European Union should support agricultural production.
It’s odd then that the only question thatâ€™s off limits in the debate, according to EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, is the one on everybodyâ€™s lips: how much taxpayersâ€™ money should the CAP get?
The blocâ€™s farm budget isÂ worth about â‚¬50 billion a year, or 40 percent of the EUâ€™s total annual spending, and the political pressure to reduce it has never been greater.
As well as the squeeze on public spending resulting from the economic crisis, European Commission President JosĂ© Manuel Barroso believes his new â€śEurope 2020â€ť strategy to createÂ jobs and economic growthÂ would be a more intelligent use of EU funds.
The Commission, the EU executive,Â will carry out a conceptual review of the EU budget this summer, followed by a specific spending plan for 2014-21 next summer, when its CAP reform proposals are also due. With a cut in farm spending the only likely outcome, the real question is how deep will the cut be?
In an attempt to limit the damage, Ciolos and his agriculture department want to ignore the budget issue for now and focus the debate on what the objectives of EU agricultural spending should be in the future.
Itâ€™s a clever strategy. Rather than picking a fight with his new boss over money, which he would probably lose, Ciolos wants to show how the CAP can help the EU address new challenges such as climate change, food security and rural unemployment.
If he can win public support for these objectives it would strengthen his position in the tough budget negotiations to come. After all, the CAP accounts for almost all of Europeâ€™s public expenditure on agriculture, and at less than 1 percent of GDP it is significantly lower than spending on defence or research.
As one member of the European Parliament said this week, for 27 euro cents per person per day, the CAP can deliver food security, food safety, animal welfare, environmental protection and rural development. When you put it like that, it almost sounds like a bargain.