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EU asks public what it thinks of CAP reform

By Charlie Dunmore
April 15, 2010
EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos

EU Commissioner Dacian Ciolos

The European Commission’s agriculture department launched a public debate this week on the future reform of Europe’s common agricultural policy (CAP) from 2014. It wants everyone – not just farmers and politicians – to have their say on how the European Union should support agricultural production.

It’s odd then that the only question that’s off limits in the debate, according to EU Farm Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, is the one on everybody’s lips: how much taxpayers’ money should the CAP get?

The bloc’s farm budget is worth about €50 billion a year, or 40 percent of the EU’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 José Manuel Barroso believes his new “Europe 2020” strategy to create jobs and economic growth would be a more intelligent use of EU funds.

The Commission, the EU executive, 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.

It’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 Europe’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.

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