Monday, December 20, 2010

Has a grand deal been done?

The future of the Common Agricultural Policy depends on what is decided about the EU budget. And the broad shape of the EU budget is usually decided in grand deals between the leading countries of Europe. Indeed, in the past, the future of the CAP has effectively been decided over lunch between French and German ministers. However, in a larger EU, that is not as simple, although the Franco-German axis is still very strong.

However, this time it looks as if a grand deal may have been done between Britain, France and Germany. David Cameron has been quite an effective negotiator in Europe and for understandable reasons he wants the EU budget frozen in real terms. It's very difficult to inflict misery at home when there is apparent profligacy in Brussels (a lesson that the European Parliament seems slow to learn).

Britain is denying it, but essentially what seems to have been agreed is that Britain's budget rebate, won by Mrs Thatcher, will stay intact although the original justification for it has been undermined. In return France will be able to keep the CAP more or less unscathed. Germany has already sold the pass, as it usually does, by signing up to a joint declaration with France calling for a strong CAP.

Needless to say, the accession states, and in particular Poland, are furious. They want the budget to be maintained and subsidies to their farmers brought in line with the rest of Europe. To some extent that could be achieved within the current budget envelope, although farmers in other member states would lose out.

There is a lot of hard negotiation to come, but it may be, despite denials, that the basic outlines of a deal have been agreed. If that is so, it will be a disappointment, but not a surprise, for the CAP reform camp.

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