Sunday, June 05, 2005

Fischer Boel's fears for CAP

Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel fears that the CAP might start to unravel. The cause of her worries is the current debate over the EU's spending plans for 2007-13. This is going to be more difficult to resolve in the atmosphere of political crisis following the French and Dutch referendums.

Budget Commissioner Dalia Grybauskaité has blamed the CAP for impeding the EU's goal of becoming more competitive. Fischer Boel argues that the CAP share of the budget could be reduced from 45% to 33% by 2018. Cuts of a further 9% could be achieved if Romania and Bulgaria are brought within the limit on farm spending agreed in 2002. Fischer Boel regrets that a proposal by Franz Fischler to place a limit of €300,000 on the amount a single landowner may draw down was rejected by the UK and Germany, but it would be difficult to take on the EU's largest member states.

Fischer Boel has articulated a new vision for the European model of agriculture 'based on a new and younger agriculture focusing on speciality and quality products, linking up with agricultural and commercial schools, using the internet to penetrate the market for direct delivery and welcoming the urban dweller in their thriving rural environment for rest and adventure.' But all this depends on rural development funds and they are the most vulnerable part of the EU farm budget.

Meanwhile traditional conceptions of the CAP die hard. Writing in European Voice Irish MEP Seán Ó Neachtain argues that 'small farm holdings are still an integral part of our culture and our way of life ... I most certainly don't want to see our family farms, the very backbone of our societies, being replaced with industrial holdings that would be more like factories than farms.'

The question is, do such sentimental versions of rurality really help the rural economy in the 21st century? The European Union is a highly urbanised society and farm policy needs to recognise that fact, allowing the rural economy to develop new services that meet the needs of a modern urban population.

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