Reforming the CAP: why this debate involves us all
12 October is the date everyone has been waiting for, the day when the Commission will set before the Council its proposals for the reform of the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy). These proposals will be analysed, weighed up and inevitably criticised by every interested group, above all farmers and ecologists.
The CAP comprises two key elements which citizens ought to be thinking about. All citizens, a fortiori Christian citizens, should be joining in the debate as far as they are able. As was emphasised by Yves Madre, member of the cabinet of European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Cioloş, “When each person makes a small effort, it becomes possible to achieve great things on a much larger scale.”
The CAP comes to the aid of a sector in crisis
For several decades now, agriculture has endured painful political, economic and social crises. The most recent of these affects the fruit and vegetables sector, which is currently sustaining colossal losses in many Member States. The CAP has undergone numerous reforms in order to adapt itself to the current needs of the rural sector. In 2008, a health check for the CAP was drawn up, in June 2010 the Commission held a public debate, and in November 2010 it presented its “possible options for reform.”
Today many challenges still remain. According to Yves Madre, three appear to be the mind of the Commission: confronting food safety on the qualitative/quantitative level for the citizen, facing up to competition and fluctuations in food prices while still remaining competitive, and promoting an ecological policy.
A high-voltage reform and the Church’s vision
The Commission’s proposal is expected to include several specific tools for ensuring a ‘greening’ of European agriculture. Expected measures include development of the value of ‘short circuits’ (i.e. market access for local produce), and encouragement of research and of ecological projects. Surely the Catholic Church must be delighted with this policy, which it has been advocating since 1992 in its new Catechism. However, this ecological vision seems to ignore an overarching truth: Nature cannot be likened to a profitable investment rendered vulnerable by bad management, to the great despair of the overconfident predictions of the financial markets. It must be received as a gift of God which has been placed at the service of the well-being of mankind. Thus Mgr Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN, called on 23 October 2009 for “a new economy that pays greater attention not only to profit but above all to human needs and relations.”
Reforming the CAP will entail a sensitive redistribution of the budget between the Member States and the different agricultural sectors. Why so? The figures speak for themselves: a Dutch farmer may receive €400 per hectare whereas a farmer in the Balkans would get around €100 per hectare. There are fierce debates over this in a context of crisis which exacerbates nationalist feelings. Each lobby, organisation and Member State is pleading its own case, supported by statistics and expert opinions. However, it would be wise to take into account the perspective of the best interests of Europe as a whole.
Finally, the Commission, the experts and the Church all call upon farmers to get organised so that they can carry weight economically and politically to address the challenges they face, including the continuing growth of supermarket distribution. This appeal is all the more urgent in a society where agricultural workers feel increasingly isolated. We have here a wonderful opportunity for mutual help and Christian charity as demonstrated, for example by the International Movement of Catholic Agricultural and Rural Youth (MIJARC) and the Missionary Brothers and Sisters of the countryside
translated from the Original French