Farm Ireland

Saturday 17 March 2018

Independent view: Ciolos could win battles - but the war?

Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

The Dacian Ciolos bandwagon rolled into town last week (it's pronounced 'chaw-losh', for those of you who were wondering). It's a name we'll all be very familiar with by the time the Romanian Commissioner for Agriculture has completed his reform of the EU's farm policy.

It will require a loaves-and-fishes-type feat to satisfy millions of EU farmers, while at the same time convincing skint tax-payers and stressed finance ministers that farmers are still deserving of the lion's share of the EU's budget.

The diminutive 41-year-old is an interesting mix of influences. Hailing from one of Europe's poorest countries, where nearly a third of the workforce are still dependent on agriculture, Ciolos is a vegetarian with a keen interest in organic farming.

While that profile may not instil confidence among the majority of Irish farmers, his academic and professional CV is impressive. He has studied agriculture and rural development up to PhD level, and has experience at senior political levels from his years as an agricultural policy advisor and, subsequently, minister for agriculture in Romania.

That experience will surely have impressed on him how much red tape already exists in the farm supports system. Apparently, when he was appointed to his first ministerial post, the Romanian department of agriculture was creaking under the strain of one million applicants. He might even have a few words of advice for our own Minister.

At the press conferences and hearings during his hectic Irish visit, he demonstrated his grasp of the art of diplomacy, carefully hinting at policy possibilities without ever allowing himself to be backed into a corner on any particular point.

Having attained many of his post-graduate qualifications in France and marrying a French woman, Ciolos also has very close ties to one of Ireland's key allies in the struggle to protect the CAP budget.

But even if he succeeds in that particular battle, he will still be a long way from winning the war from an Irish farmer's standpoint. Will more of the CAP be channelled into environmental or rural development-type schemes? And how will the pot be divvied up? Remember, we now have nearly three times the number of farmers looking for a piece of the action.

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It's not going to be pretty, but these constant reforms are probably unavoidable to convince the main funders -- cash-strapped and increasingly urban-based taxpayers -- that they are getting their money's worth from the world's biggest farm-protection scheme.

Irish Independent