Thursday, November 18, 2010

NFU criticises Commission paper

The European Commission has now issued its Communication on the future of the CAP and the NFU has made a critical response. It argues that the Commisson's proposals may entrench inefficiency rather than boosting competitiveness. It thinks that the Commission may have tried to please too many audiences, possibly leading to a rather incoherent document:

'Today’s future of CAP Communication has identified the challenges that European agriculture and the EU Common Agricultural Policy face over the next ten years. However the measures proposed in the EU Commission’s document are unlikely to help farmers rise to these challenges, the NFU has argued today.

The paper, which sets out the direction of the next reform of the CAP due to take place after 2013, describes the context for the next reform and argues that European agriculture must address concerns about food security, the environment, climate change and the economic viability of fragile areas. While these challenges are accurate, the NFU believes that the measures suggested in the paper to considerably reshape direct payments may harm the competitiveness of farming, as well as undermine efforts to simplify the CAP and make it more comprehensible to taxpayers.

NFU President Peter Kendall said that while these ideas come at a very early stage of the reform process it was difficult to take a firm judgment on the document.

“While today’s paper is not without good intentions or ideas, it does not appear to present the best approach to reform for the post 2013 period,” said Mr Kendall. “The proposals outlined in the paper are understandably general and will require considerable clarification.

“The Communication does provide a fair assessment of the economic, environmental and societal challenges facing farming and I am pleased that it recognises the importance of Europe to global food security and of farming to the economy, society and the environment. I am also pleased to see that the Commission supports the maintenance of a common European approach to agricultural policy.

“However when we set out our policy on the CAP in May we argued that any reform must be driven by core principles; commonality, market orientation, competitiveness and simplicity. It is against these principles that the proposals should be measured. When I look at ideas such as a tiered approach to payments, capping of support with labour adjustment and a significant flexibility measure, I tend to see a recipe for complexity, distortion and a risk of undermining efforts to help farmers become less reliant on support.

“This is the key long-term strategic challenge; to get farmers to a place where they can depend on the market for their income.

“We also must recognise the budgetary and political pressure the CAP will be under - and use the resources wisely. My worry is that the Commission’s proposals may actually entrench support and inefficiency in European farming rather than boost competitiveness.

“I believe that the Commission should build on the progressive direction of previous reforms, developing the two-pillar structure for the CAP and ensuring that each instrument has a clear objective – putting competitive agriculture at its heart.

“The Communication rightly dwells on the future of direct payments which, as the largest component of CAP spending, are a focal point for the next reform. However the complicated ideas from today confuse the role of direct support which should be about underpinning the economics of farm production and helping farmers deal with higher costs and volatility rather than delivering environmental goods. This is the role of rural development policies and I’m really surprised to see the Commission omit any reference to agri-environment schemes.

“I fear that the Commission has fallen into the trap of trying to please as many people as possible, in order to justify the money it spends, rather than adopting a clear direction for European agriculture. It is rare that a clear policy pleases all of the people all of the time but I fear that what we have here will end up as a confused proposal that suits no-one.”

This blog will provide further analysis and comment in the coming days, but at first sight the paper does not seem to differ greatly from the draft version leaked last month.

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