Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spel(l)ing it out

New Defra supremo Caroline Spelman went down well at her first Farm Council as she has a fluent command of French and German which facilitated informal discussions with ministers. She has built up informal links with German agriculture minister Isle Aigner on the issue of lighter regulation and is planning a bilateral meeting with French minister Bruno le Maire.

She is taking a relatively reformist stance on CAP, noting that there are four constituencies to be satisfied. She told Farmers Weekly 'Farmers need a good deal from CAP reform. So, too, do consumers, taxpayers and the environment. It is a four-pronged approach to how we reform the CAP.'

Rumours have been circulating that Defra will be abolished or rebadged and substantially restructured. However, the minister said: 'I am not a huge fan of big structural change. In my experience, messing around with structures can end up costing money as well as saving money. It is not my top priority.'

Reading the farming press one gets the sense that farmers have realised that it is not bonanza time, particularly given the fiscal constraints. Cost and responsibility sharing on animal health is still very much on the agenda and the commitment on a bovine TB cull is very qualified.

All four Defra ministers have strong farming connections which is how the Conservatives tend to recruit their ministers and there are no Lib Dems in the department, somewhat surprising given their rural focus. However, this is not necessarily a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture) in all but name. As far as CAP reform is concerned, the personnel may have changed, but British interests in value for money have not. Indeed, they are likely to be emphasised even more.

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