Analysis: Revamp could dismantle EU’s level playing field

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Margaret Donnelly

Margaret Donnelly

The much-maligned Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is among the EU’s oldest policies and, for many, its most successful.

Its roots can be traced to 1950s Western Europe, whose societies had been damaged by World War II and where agriculture had been crippled and food supplies could not be guaranteed.

It has faced significant challenges in the intervening years, with food mountains and huge payments to individuals all generating controversy with the public.

Among the key principles underpinning the CAP over the past 56 years has been the commonality of its rules and regulations across all member states – farmers from Malta to Finland and from Ireland to Poland all on a level playing field.

This convention has often angered farmers who could never understand how a beef farmer in Mayo had to comply with the same rules as an olive farmer in Italy.

Many countries and farm groups have argued that member states should have a greater say in how the policy is implemented in their countries. They now have an ally in Agriculture Comm-issioner Phil Hogan, whose proposals to revamp the CAP will put individual member states in the driving seat.

Hogan’s not-so-common Common Agricultural Policy will see national strategic plans governed by nine overarching environmental, economic and social common objectives. However, EU targets for each country will be set at ground level.

Then, the EU will assess member states’ homework and ensure their homegrown plans are in keeping with its plans to reform the CAP under nine key headings.

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This is a fundamental departure from the previous 56 years of EU agriculture policy and a bold move by the Commissioner, and it may allow member states to create tailored solutions for the specific challenges facing its farmers.

It may also see richer nations provide schemes and policies that poorer member states cannot, thus dismantling the playing field causing so much resentment.

Another notable decision that could be left up to member states is how much to cap the payments its farmers should receive from Europe, with a €60,000-€100,000 limit window available.

But until further detail emerges, and we see whether there is the stomach at national level to implement a cut to very large payments in support of young farmers and the ‘traditional family farm’, the proposed reforms are just that – a proposal for change.

Online Editors