Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Budget problems may affect future of CAP

The main driver of CAP reform from the MacSharry reforms of 1992 onwards has been the need to adjust to adapt to a liberalising international trade regime that has embraced agriculture. In contrast, reforms in the 1980s were driven more by budgetary pressures and were thought to be more susceptible to 'fudged' solutions that fooled those who were not CAP insiders as the political pressures were endogenous rather than exogenous.

However, budgetary pressures may become more important once the 'financial discipline' mechanism comes into operation in 2007. It is difficult to estimate how much the overrun will be because of the assumptions one has to make. However, Agra Europe has suggested that a cut of 7 to 9 per cent every year in subsidies from 2007 could be necessary. This would be a bombshell for farmers and create a political storm in countries such as France.

Pressures on the budget are likely to be increased by the Farm Council not going as far as the Commission would want in terms of a radical reform of the sugar regime, in particular increasing the size of the proposed compensation payments for beet farmers. Moreover, the weakening of the dollar against the euro, which seems likely to persist in the medium term increases the financial pressures on the CAP. Export subsidies are still with us and a weakening of the dollar increases the amount of the export subsidy that has to fill the gap between EU indicative prices for key commodities and world prices that are normally denominated in dollars.

Agra Europe goes so far as to suggest that the cut in direct subsidy could be as much as 30 per cent, but this would be a worst case scenario as far as disruption is concerned. It is the case that some countries are arguing that the EU's budget contribution is too high and should be reduced from 1.14% of Gross National Income to 1%. If this happened it would slash the EU budget by nearly one eighth and reduce the total amount available for agriculture in 2006 from €44.47bn to €39.73bn. However, it is unlikely that the budget would be cut by so much, particularly given the need of the UK to preserve its special budgetary arrangements won by Mrs Thatcher.

What is potentially more of a problem is possible cost overruns as the result of the admission of Bulgaria and Romania with their large and inefficient agricultural sectors. This is an often ignored time bomb that is ticking away with any doubts likely to be swept away by the inexorable momentum of the enlargement process.

One possible consequence of budgetary problems might be an attempt to revive the notion of top slicing the subsidies received by larger scale farmers. Such an idea was advanced by the Commission in the Mid Term Review, but was knocked on the head by political opposition from Britain and Germany. However, reviving a scheme of this kind would at best offset the cost of admitting Bulgaria and Romania.

The next round of budgetary pressures may have a greater impact on a CAP that has substantially changed since the 1980s.

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