Unwanted surpluses are a recurrent problem of the CAP. And now the troubled Southern European countries have been hit by a surplus of olive oil, driving down prices to uneconomic levels. Domestic consumption of the diet staple has fallen because of the economic crisis: in Greece and Italy it has fallen to 1995 levels and in Spain to 2002 levels. At the same time there has been a bumper crop in Spain. The price of premium extra virgin oive oil fell this month to $2,900 a tonne, the lowest since 2002 and down more than half from nearly $6,000 a tonne in 2005.
Spain, Italy and Greece account for some 70 per cent of the world's output. The crop is crucial for some of the poorest regions of Spain including Andalucia, where the unemployment rate was 33 per cent last quarter. Urged on by farmers' union Copa-Cogeca, the EU has started to pay companies to stockpile oil.
Intervention buying was one of the worst features of the old style CAP. It costs money to store the produce and often it deteriorates in quality over time. One then faces the problem of how to sell it without causing market disruption. In the past 'ageing' butter was sold to grateful consumers in the Soviet Union while skimmed milk powder was dumped on third world countries, driving local dairy farmers out of business. Such outlets are not available for olive oil.