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When thieves fall out

Posted by Richard Friday, March 11, 2005

"There is no alternative to the CAP. The market and renationalising aspects of the policy are simply not options, but at the same time I think we must link the CAP to the European Union's overall objectives, especially sustainable development. I don't want to see the CAP on the sidelines".

This is Mariann Fischer Boel, the farmer's wife who just happens also to be the EU's agriculture commissioner, speaking in an interview to the Farmers Guardian, published today.

Yet, earlier this week saw the publication of a report by the House of Lords European Union Committee, entitled "Future financing of the European Union" (now available online) which, according to press reports, recommended the abolition of the CAP, arguing:

The continued predominance of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the budget has been inappropriate for a long time, and is even more inappropriate now that the link between agricultural support and production has been broken, following recent reforms. The new system of direct income support transfers strengthens the argument for shifting the burden of financing the CAP back towards the Member States.
This passage has special significance as its is written by Lord Radice, board member of the European Movement and Britain in Europe, and ardent Europhile.

Furthermore, it was based on evidence submitted by a raft of EU commissioners, officials, supporters and advisors. Amongst the ranks of the later, was Professor André Sapir, economic advisor to the EU commission and author of a critical report on the EU's economic performance, entitled: "Making the EU Economic System Deliver", which the Lords' committee regarded as their "Bible".

In fact, the central idea expressed by the committee, essentially of repatriating the CAP, stems directly from the Sapir report (pg. 111).

What we have, therefore, is a clear split in thinking, between the economically literal faction advising the EU (and Sapir is certainly that), as against the commission orthodoxy represented by Mariann Boel.

Meanwhile, at the coal face, so to speak, one aspect of the actual workings of the "reformed" CAP are recorded by Guy Watson, and organic vegetable grower who runs Riverford Farm in Devon.

In his weekly newsletter he complains of Defra having "still not decided how to deal with vegetables, despite the fact that the forms governing our payments for the next eight years have to be submitted in May." He concludes:

I am fairly confident that the whole thing will collapse under the burden of bureaucracy and lawsuits. Consultants and lawyers will do well. A few farmers will begin to question their sanity, and Defra officials will need bodyguards on the rare occasions when they venture into the countryside. It is enough to make you pack up and emigrate; which is exactly what one of our largest, and in many ways one of the best, co-op members has done. He is now living a form free life growing cotton in Australia and loving it.
That is the reality of the EU. While the politicians and "experts" pontificate, the job goes steadily down the pan, a classic example of what happens when thieves fall out.