THE BLOG
26/07/2013 06:59 BST | Updated 24/09/2013 06:12 BST

C(R)AP Farming Legislation

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is being reformed by the European Commission once more. Hotly contested by farmers across Europe it seems that any changes made to the current policy won't actually make a great deal of difference.

Since its inception in 1962, the Policy has undergone many changes to reflect the issues of the day. However, major criticisms of the Policy have still to be addressed; of concern this time around are the environmental issues, meant to be of central concern to the EU, and the distribution of subsidies.

This year the European Commission wanted to shore-up the scheme initially published in 2004, which encourages farmers to be more environmentally friendly. Unfortunately, despite the hours of wrangling, discussions have so far been disappointing.

In 2011 a scheme was cobbled together to encourage farmers to go green. Under this scheme 30% of each farmer's subsidy must be earned by adhering to some fairly loose environmental specifications. Farmers can simply do nothing and leave wildlife to prosper naturally to earn their subsidy.

The European Commission would understandably like to go further by forcing farmers to diversify their crops, preserve landscapes and look after animal welfare. Sadly these ideas have been met with scepticism from the farming community and are likely to be watered down. The "greening" of the CAP, it seems, is not so green after all.

It was also proposed that subsidies be capped at €300,000 per farm per year, but this was quickly removed from the agenda by England and Germany, who criticised the proposal for penalising larger farms.

Currently, subsidies are linked to farm size; the larger the farm, the higher the subsidy. Any savings would have gone towards creating a sustainable rural development programme for each country, but the spinelessness of the European Commission means this is unlikely to go ahead adding yet another blow to the progress of CAP.

More worrying are the issues that the European Commission are not addressing: the effect of European subsidies on the rest of the world.

Subsidies reduce local food prices and reduce the need to buy produce from abroad. Whilst potentially a good thing in itself, this distortion of the world market reduces the need for efficiency and can be a devastating blow to developing countries. Many poverty-stricken people depend on agriculture to earn a living, but are simply unable to compete with our prices, even with the 'Everything But Arms' programme enabling duty-free access to the European market.

Subsidies also mean that farmers profit from every single crop. There is no such thing as simply filling the demand in these markets, so surplus is common. Typically, such surpluses are shipped to developing countries at bargain-basement prices - adding yet more competition for the emerging markets, and farmers in developing countries suffer with every product over-produced in Europe.

It is a staggering thought that, even in the 21st century, 1.2 billion people have a lower income than the subsidy provided for a European cow. Clearly cows are more valuable than people. Although subsidies have been decoupled from dairy production directly, European farmers are still handed an extortionate amount of money each year. The European farming industry is able to monopolise markets around the world to the detriment of developing countries.

In 2007, Sweden became the first country in the EU to support the abolition of farming subsidies. They instead would like to see the farming communities of Europe left to market forces, as with most other industries. This isn't a bad idea considering the damage subsidies do to the developing world. However, the European Commission's weak stance on changes to CAP instils little confidence in its ability to actually make a difference.

Admittedly discussions are all part of a functioning democracy, but on this issue the European Commission needs to take control and make a decision. It could benefit everyone, and not just 5.4% of the population of the EU.

By contrast, New Zealand removed all its subsides in 1984, and their industry is now more dynamic than ever. It is selfish and unfair to expect the developing world and the environment to suffer in order to subsidise an industry that can do well enough without the freebies.

Perhaps CAP should be more suitably renamed the Common Regional Agricultural Policy.

First published in the Yorkshire Times, June 2013.