Thursday, October 07, 2010

CAP reform paper leaked

A draft of the EU Commission's 'Communication' on the future of the CAP after 2013 has been leaked. It is scheduled for publication on 17 November. This post examines the overall objectives and directions for reform. A subsequent post will look at some of the more detailed proposals.

The paper sets out three challenges and objectives for agriculture, two of which are not very surprising: food security, leading to an objective of viable farm production; and environment and climate change, leading to an objective of sustainable management of natural resources. So far so good, although clearly a question remains about whether these are seen as equivalent objectives or there is some kind of hierarchy (and how one resolves tensions between them).

The puzzle is the third objective, territorial balance. It's a bit difficult to work out what means, but it seems to be moving in the direction of making the CAP a social policy. Many would argue that is what it has been all along, but it has never been spelt out as such, leading to all sorts of inefficiencies.

Under this heading, the Commission talks about economic (boosting the rural economy) and social (local traditions and social identity) objectives. There is reference to supporting rural employment (i.e., motherhood and apple pie), promoting diversification and 'allowing for structural diversity in farming systems' which could be a code phrase for tolerating inefficiency.

The whole notion is not easy to grasp and may be honed in the final version of the paper now that this kite has been flown. What seems to be going on here is a (probably mistaken) attempt to mould economic and social objectives into one. It also implies a policy that is more locally-led and flexible in its approach.

What could this lead to is all sorts of special pleading for subsidies of various kinds which satisfied local client groups. It also does not seem to fit to well with declarations about preventing the renationalisation of policy. Indeed, the paper reiterates the case for an EU-led policy rather than a national one.

The paper sets out three broad policy options:

1. Enhanced status quo: adjusting the current instruments and delivering a more equitable distribution direct payments. This is viewed within the Commission as a missed opportunity to make the CAP more legitimate.
2. More 'balanced targeted and sustinable support': a fairly significant adjustment of direct payments, especially 'greening' the first pillar. This would seem to be the Commission's preferred route.
3. Abolish all market and income support and focus delivery on public goods/climate change: essentially the British approach and dismissed pretty much out of hand.

One important dog fails to bark in the nighttime. The paper remains largely silent on the scale of the budget. It is decisions on the budget that will shape the next phase of the CAP.

The paper talks of the need to improve competitiveness, but there are no measures set out to achieve it, indeed some proposals (discussed in a later post) could have a damaging effect. One critic has remarked that, taken as a whole, the document is neither very common nor very agricultural. But nor does it particularly emphasise sustainability.

In other words, it's a bit of a mish mash. Why I am not surprised?

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