Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Toffs would be hit by farm subsidy cap

Some of Britain's wealthiest aristocrats would be hit by a plan to revive caps on farm subsidies, a proposal fought off by Britain and Germany in 2002. However, farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel is proposing to revive the plan next year.

Farmsubsidy.org, a group that monitors CAP payments, calculated that the Commission's original proposal for a €300,000 (£207,000) cap would have hit 1,880 farms in the old EU 15. 1,430 were actually in Germany, many of them former collective farms in East Germany. There were 330 farms in Britain and just 30 in France. British landowners that would be hit include the Duke of Westminster and Duke of Marlborough.

The British government hit back at the proposal, claiming that blue blooded gentry were exponents of modern, large-scale efficient agriculture. A Defra spokesman said that the main objective of CAP reform was to make the EU more competitive in world agricultural markets. 'To achieve that it needs to reward farmers who are the most efficient', he said. 'There is no point in CAP subsidies propping up a failing market.'

Others would argue that the CAP is not there to help farms that are capable of being internationally competitive without large subsidies, but rather to promote rural development and help more marginal, peripheral farmers survive. One solution might be to taper subsidies above the €300,000 level.

In any case the policy might be difficult to implement. The legal definition of a 'farm' is far from clear. Jack Thurston of farmsubsidy.org warned that large farms might simply split up ownership to get round a cap.

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