Sunday, September 27, 2009

Back to butter mountains?

It's a familar scenario: the milk price falls; farmers come out to the street; and the Commission starts to panic.

Following a 'milk strike' across Europe, an emergency meeting is to be held by farm ministers on October 5th. Nineteen member states have signalled support for a Franco-German initiative for an aid package for dairy farmers. However, farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, insists that there is no prospect of reversing the decision to abandon dairy quotas as part of the CAP reform process.

Global prices surged in 2007, but this led to more production which came on to the market as the recession ended.

The simple fact is that there are too many inefficient dairy farmers in Europe. A slimmed down dairy sector would be more globally competitive. However, despite the opposition of Britain and Denmark, one suspects that a policy fudge is on the way.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fischer Boel steps down

Mariann Fischer Boel has confirmed that she is to step down as farm commissioner, citing her age (66) and the wish to spend more time with her family. An assessment of her time as commissioner can be found here: Boel

The race is now on to succeed her. Ireland has already thrown its hat into the ring, although no name has yet emerged. A successful Irish candidacy would not assist reform.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Will Fischer Boel stay or go?

Agra Focus is still 60 - 70 per cent positive that farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will step down. At 66, the attractions of retirement from a demanding role might seem clear. Manuel Barosso, the Commission president, would like her to stay as he thinks she is a skilled negotiator. The Danish prime minister, Anders Rasmussen, would also like her to stay to give the Danes a key portfolio.

If she does go, there will be more uncertainty about the future direction of policy. Romania is reported to be pushing for the agriculture portfolio and is receiving backing from France and Poland on the basis that a Romanian commissioner would be more resistant to a genuine reform of the CAP. Moreover, the favoured candidate, former Romanian farm minister Dacian Ciolos studied in France, has a French wife and is a personal friend of former French farm minister Michel Barnier.

However, would a candidate from a new member state with a large and inefficient agricultural sector really be favoured when CAP reform is on the agenda? Nearly 30 per cent of the Romanian population is employed in agriculture, more than five times the EU average. Another problem is tha at some stage the Commission will have to start investigating how Romania and Bulgaria have been implementing CAP aid schemes since they joined the EU in 2007. Their record in relation to the SAPARD scheme for pre-enlargement funds was none too good.

So perhaps the choice could again fall on a smaller northern member state like the Netherlands?