Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Is Europe losing touch with reality?

Stefan Tangermann

Is Europe losing touch with reality? One might think so given the surprise Greek decision to hold a referendum on the austerity package. The fear of contagion is very real and if the euro is confined to a small core of northern member states, the single market project will be undermined. One of the main justifications for creating the euro was the need to avoid competitive devaluations between member states.

It also ended the nonsense of green money, now largely forgotten, but one of the more bizarre and distorting aspects of the CAP (which is saying something). Somewhere in Brussels we should have a sculpture commemorating the switchover mechanism as an awful warning.

However, it is also a question that leading agricultural economist Stefan Tangermann has posed in relation to the CAP reform proposals announced last month.

The former OECD director for trade and agriculture argues that the reform proposals do not reflect the economic realities that Europe currently finds itself in. It is unfortunate that the policy planning calendar dictates that the European Commission must make vital decisions on the CAP through to 2020 but Tangermann claims the proposals fall short of an adequate response to perhaps the biggest crisis the trading bloc has ever faced.

But he is not alone in his criticism of the reform plans. It appears that dissatisfaction with almost every aspect of the proposals is rife and MEPs were given the opportunity to vent their frustrations at the Special Committee on Agriculture (SCA) meeting in Brussels last week.

In stark contrast to farm commissioner Dacian Cioloş’ assertion that the reform proposals would simplify the various administrative mechanisms within the CAP, MEPs claimed that the European Commission’s proposals for CAP reform are costly, complex and fail to distribute fairly between member states.

Ciolos is in danger of being seen as the least effective farm commissioner since Réne Steichen who was also seen as a trojan horse for France. Like Ciolos, he was educated in France but at the end of the day he turned out to be somewhat less beholden to France than expected.

The European Parliament is also concerned about moves by national governments to cut almost €500 million from CAP spending in 2012 last week. Instead, they re-affirmed their backing for the European Commission’s draft budget plan issued in April, which proposes a 2.3 per cent CAP budget rise within a wider 5.2 per cent year-on-year increase in commitments.

This is, of course, a dangerously nonsensical proposition against the background of serious budget deficits in Europe. If there is a collapse of the eurozone it will look even more so.

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