The intention of the European Commission to retain the SFP as the centre piece of the CAP after 2013 is a fundamental error according to leading agricultural economists. In a paper by David Harvey and colleagues to the Agricultural Economics Society conference in Edinburgh, it was argued that direct farm payments should be phased out.
The very idea of general direct payments was said to be unjustifiable. Payments should be reoriented from payments that are still historically linked to production-based payments and towards the guarantee of food supplies, rural economic development and protection of the environment.
The ag ecnomists argue that the overall agricultural policy problem for the EU is the preoccupation with farm incomes which dates back to the formation of the CAP in the 1950s. The bulk of an expanding budget is still spent on that objective. Despite this expenditure, average farm incomes remain below the national average income in almost all member states (which, of course, could be seized on as an argument for not making things worse by removing farm support). The economists argue that whatever governments do, they are not going to substantially improve the incomes of the less efficient and marginal farm holders.
The economists note that these payments were originally meant to be transitional. Of course, following Mancur Olson, the politics of subsidies which have concentrated effects but diffuse costs means that they are often converted from temporary to permanent payments.
Harvey revives the idea of a bond scheme to buy out these payments as first suggested by Professor John Marsh more than twenty years ago and subsequently developed by Alan Swinbank and his colleagues. Uncertainty for farmers would be reduced and they would have time to adjust to liberalised markets.
I have always found such a scheme attractive in principle, but the Commission view is that it is not compatible with cross-compliance.