Fields and frontiers

EU: agriculture and fishing, between market, environment and poverty

EU Ministers of Agriculture and Fishing met in Brussels on 13 December. On the order of the day was a preliminary debate on European agricultural policy after 2013. On 18 November, the European Commission had adopted a communication with the title “The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) on the horizon of 2020: food, natural resources and territory – identification of the challenges of the future”. It is on the basis of this document that the first exchange of views between ministers took place. The three main objectives of the future CAP should be, according to the Commission, sustainable food production, durable management of natural resources and the maintenance of territorial equilibrium. Of the instruments to achieve these objectives, direct payments to farmers are those to which the main role has been assigned. Subdivided in a fairer manner between farmers of the “old” and “new” member states and assigned exclusively to “active farmers”, these payments could be differentiated, according to the Commission, between support for basic income, a compulsory payment on an environmental basis, a complementary payment for those who farm areas with specific natural limitations, and lastly a payment dependent on production volumes, but with a maximum ceiling and reserved for some specific sectors and regions.This proposal met with a favourable response from the European Parliament, especially as regards payment on an environmental basis, but many governments and the main agricultural trades unions have shown themselves – for various reasons – reticent, if not downright hostile, to the proposed ideas. Too complex, too costly, too ecological: such were the comments of the various ministers round the table relating to this first objective of the CAP, where, in contrast to the second objective, rural development policy remains excluded from the law of co-financing by national governments. The other aspect of the first objective is the arsenal of market measures, such as public intervention, aid for private stockpiling for a better functioning of the food chain to increase the share of value added for farmers. But the fact is that the importance of such market measures has been considerably reduced. Whereas in 1991 market measures represented 92% of CAP expenditures, their share of the CAP budget did not even reach 7% in 2009. Often criticized for their pernicious effects on the peasants of poor countries, aid for the exports of European agricultural products on world markets is destined to disappear completely during the negotiations on the current Doha round of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Already over the last few years the sums allocated to this measure have been drastically reduced: in 2009 only 649 million euros were allocated to aid for exports, whereas in 1993 such aid still reached a total of 10.2 billion euro.This latter aspect is also good news with which to conclude the European Year 2010 for the Fight against Poverty. During a seminar of dialogue with the European Commission in July, Mgr. Giuseppe Merisi, Bishop of Lodi and President of Caritas Italy, had appealed to the representatives of the European institutions to pay attention also to poverty beyond the frontiers of Europe. A contribution to the fight against poverty will be made by the final disappearance of EU aid for exports, which will permit a better development of local production, and agricultural growth is five times more effective in reducing extreme poverty than the growth of any other economic sector (see the contribution of Luc Christiaensen to the World Forum on Agriculture, 29 – 30 November 2010)On the other hand, the idea of a total opening of European frontiers to farm imports must be examined with caution, because there is a risk here of promoting mono-cultivations on an industrial scale. “The social doctrine of the Church,…, suggests that the family farm enterprise that owns the land it cultivates directly should be promoted”. This stance adopted by the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace in 1997 could still guide both the negotiations on the CAP and those within the WTO.

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