The agriculture ministers of six European countries (Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Cyprus and Greece) have asked the European Union to redefine the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) before deciding on its budget.
"It is a serious error to believe, as some European countries do, that the budget for the CAP must be slashed first, and that the debate over the future of agriculture and subsidies should begin only afterward," they declared in a statement released following a forum in Venice on "a new vision of the CAP, for sustainable development, for a changing world." The statement went on to say, "We should be taking a completely different approach: the political objectives of the CAP must be set before any agreement on the budget."
On November 20, the Commission, which is currently working on the CAP Health Check, will publish a report covering strategies for the agricultural policy five years after the 2003 reform, four years after the entry of ten new member states and five years before a potential new round of reforms in 2013.
This "mid-term evaluation" comes at a tense time for agriculture, with WTO negotiations at a standstill, inventories hitting rock bottom and prices soaring on the world markets, and also falls under the umbrella of the EU's overall budget revision.
The October 27, 2007 statement by the six agriculture ministers echoed the concerns expressed by some representatives during the hearing, three days earlier, of European Commissioner for Agriculture Mariann Fischer Boel before the French National Assembly. Their main fear was that the Commission would be tempted to reform European agricultural policy with the sole purpose of reducing the budget.
Several possible directions have been suggested for the "adjustments" that the Commission might make: moving from the single payment scheme toward a sharper division between production level and subsidies while harmonizing the payment system among the countries in the Union; imposing a minimum farm area to be eligible for subsidies; abolishing the requirement to let a certain amount of land lie fallow and taking a "soft landing" approach to eliminating milk quotas by 2015. Defying the principle of European community preference defended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Mariann Fischer Boel has also reiterated her proposal to suspend customs duties on grain imports for one year to ease pressure on prices. Measures on water management, bioenergy and second generation biofuels more specifically are also expected.
WOAgri joins those European agriculture ministers and French representatives who are troubled to see their common agricultural policy, a pillar of European construction, hobbled and redefined according to budgetary criteria without any concern for strategic considerations.