The future of food and farming?
The recently issued European Commission communication is the result of an in-depth consultation carried out in the first half of 2017 (see EuropeInfos, April 2017), in which COMECE was one of the participants. After two meetings with stakeholders in the summer of last year, an attempt was made to incorporate the wide range of ideas, proposals and criticisms of the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a blueprint for a revised CAP to be introduced in 2021. This resulted in a draft that kept to very general terms, sketching out some cornerstones but which – as echoed by some in the DG AGRI of the European Commission – remained “strangely empty”. This is due, above all, to the fact that the multiannual budgetary framework has not yet been drawn up for the years beyond 2021, and a specific agricultural policy, which still represents around 30% of the total EU budget, strongly depends on this.
A striking aspect of the draft is a certain degree of “renationalisation” of agricultural policy, albeit sweetened with the designation “subsidiarity”. Specifically, the intention is that, in future, the European Commission will merely set targets in respect of the various aspects of the CAP (such as environment, climate control, animal protection, food safety and security of supply), and these will then be concretised by the member states in national “CAP strategy plans”. This addresses an important principle: the framework conditions (climatological, geographical and social) for farming activities vary to such an extent between countries such as Finland, Greece, Denmark and Spain that they would be better served by a “tailor-made concept” rather than a “one size fits all” approach imposed from above.
However, the member states will not only be assigned the task of adapting the specified framework conditions and targets to their own situations (and submitting these to the Commission) but also monitoring their implementation (and thus the way in which funding is applied). Simplification of bureaucracy in the field of agriculture (one of the main criticisms of the CAP at present is its “stifling bureaucracy”) may be welcome, but at the same time this kind of control is difficult because of its high susceptibility to abuse, as shown by numerous reports from the European Court of Auditors. How can control mechanisms be developed that find a balance between “over-bureaucratisation” and “open abuse” that leads citizens to mistrust and ultimately reject the EU?
The major challenges facing European agriculture, which the future CAP attempts to overcome, are a many-facetted beast. On the one hand, there is the desire to make European agriculture a crisis-resistant economic sector, one that offers a secure income to farmers and largely protects them against market fluctuations, while at the same time re-establishing farming as an attractive profession for young people, in order to counteract rural depopulation. On the other hand, agriculture should be innovative, applying new technologies and crop cultivation methods that facilitate “precision farming that conserves resources and maximises efficiency”, which will require substantial investment in the infrastructure of rural areas. And, finally, agricultural policy should reinforce rural areas overall as “attractive places to live”. The essential objective of farming activity should not be forgotten: the cultivation of “tasty, safe and affordable food”. This should also be extended to countries outside the EU in the hope of finding an expanding market there. Can all this really be achieved by the agricultural policy?
The cornerstones and guidelines in this communication should be discussed individually over the coming months and translated into specific policies by summer. All the ideas in the Commission’s communication are fundamentally of interest but the complexity of the content raises the equally fundamental question of whether all the subject areas covered in the communication should really be brought about by the CAP or whether it would be easier to separate from the CAP those areas that are not directly connected with farming (large parts of what is known as the “2nd pillar”) and allocate them to regional development. Rural regions that are attractive places to live are not only home to farmers but to “people of the land”, whose welfare should be of as much concern to politicians as that of town and city dwellers.
Translated from the original text in German