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Thursday, 07 October 2010

The most difficult job of all

The odds continue to be stacked against a major overhaul of the EU's Common Agriculture Policy.
After months of polite exchanges, this month marked the start of the real debate about reforming the European Union's farm policy ‘Reform' of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is a fixture in the EU calendar. Rather like the nebulous concept ‘building Europe', it is a job that is never finished. Ever since governments agreed a modest ‘health check' reform in 2009 agriculture ministers have been having regular meetings about how to overhaul the CAP after 2013. This week the first signs of conflict emerged.  At first, the meeting of farm ministers in La Hulpe on Tuesday (21 September) followed the same pattern, where ministers talked more about what they agreed on, rather than where they differed. But on the sidelines a row was brewing between Europe's biggest farming countries. The cause was a joint paper on the future of the CAP drawn up by the French and German agriculture ministries, which mounted a strong defence of “the central role” of direct payments to farmers and poured cold water over “renationalising” the CAP (ie, co-payments from national governments). Many countries could sign up to this. But France and Germany lost the chance to win some friends, by signalling their opposition to correcting current inequalities in CAP payments. Currently farm payments vary massively. (According to the website, Greek farmers get around €550 a hectare, while Polish counterparts receive just €81 a hectare. Other figures tell a similar story.)  The Franco-German paper suggested that the unequal status quo should continue, to reflect central European farmers' lower costs. This prompted a sharp response from Poland's Agriculture Minister Marek Sawicki who accused Paris and Berlin of pure self-interest.

Source: European Voice