Sunday, April 15, 2007

One Vision, Two Steps

It sounds like a Maoist slogan, but farm commissioner Mariann Fische Boel set out a 'one vision, two steps' plan for the reform of the CAP at the recent Agra Europe conference in London. As she has made clear before, the forthcoming Health Check which will address the period up until 2013 is seen largely as a tidying up exercise rather than an opportunity for further fundamental reform. The Commission is currenly preparing a Green Paper on the Health Check but this is not expected to be ready until after the summer.

However, a substantial shift in the structure of EU financing for agriculture and the rural economy remains a distinct possibility for the period after 2013. In the meantime, Single Farm Payment payments could be cut by 7 per cent a year by 2013 under the Financial Discipline Mechanism. This would result from the continuing phasing in of direct aids to accession states, aggravated by the addition of Bulgaria and Romania which took the SPS payment budget beyond the Pillar 1 budget ceiling. However, Fischer Boel confirmed that the SPS 'will be with us for a long time to come.'

The Danish farm supremo had little time for the two main drivers of CAP reform. She said that 'Thinking about policy must drive the European budget. If we put things the other way round ... we won't have a CAP that can meet the very real challenges of the futuree.' She also declared that she would not allow the Doha Round of international trade talks be 'the main driver of our domestic policy for farms and rural areas in the years ahead.'

In short, Fischer Boel wants to continue the reform process, but she wants to retain a CAP a long time into the future. And, of course, doing the first task makes it easier to achieve the second.

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