British farmers lose out as EU turns back the clock on CAP

A package of proposed reforms to Europe's controversial Common Agricultural Policy were voted through the European Parliament this week.


Depressingly, the measures represent a major step back to the days of wide-scale intervention and protectionism, say Conservative MEPs.


Julie Girling MEP, Conservative spokesman on agriculture in the European Parliament, said the majority of measures would be retrograde.


As MEPs pored over the outcome of hundreds of detailed amendments and votes on the minutiae of the package, she said: "This was a golden opportunity to set up a fairer and less wasteful system but that opportunity has been squandered.


In some areas Conservative pressure has led to better proposals but overall the MEPs have ended up approving something less fair for British farmers, less helpful to consumers and less supportive of the environment and biodiversity.


The whole reform package needed to be more market-oriented and less interventionist. Instead we will continue to see French farmers enjoying much more favourable terms than their British counterparts. We will continue to see inadequate support and encouragement for more-efficient medium-to-large farms. Worse than that, we will see a return to the bad old days of butter mountains, wine lakes and rampant intervention which destroys any realistic market and punishes consumers."


Key elements of the package can be categorised under these headings:

Greening: Hugely-expensive so-called "greening" measures will misfire, say Conservatives. The proposals would allow set-aside schemes to pay farmers to take up to seven percent of their land out of production altogether. Mrs Girling sees this as recklessly wasteful in times of global food shortage, while doing little to improve ecology. Instead, she believes, the EU should be concentrating on successful agri-environment schemes such as the UK's high-level stewardship scheme, which rewards farmers for managing their land to support biodiversity directly and to create habitat for threatened wildlife.


TobaccoConservatives are furious that the package will allow millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to be used to subsidise tobacco growers in Eastern and Southern Europe. Mrs Girling said: "It is plainly ridiculous for the EU to be subsidising tobacco farmers with one hand, while spending millions with the other to launch health campaigns to stop people killing themselves by smoking." 


Direct paymentsThe proposals will do nothing to reform the discredited and outdated system of coupled payments which directly link subsidies to specific production volumes.


Intervention: New rules would lower the price-level at which the EU would intervene to buy up and store excess crops created through over-production. Nothing will be done to end the quota system for foodstuffs such as sugar. Agriculture will be excluded from EU competition law. Mrs Girling said: "Taken in combination, these measures will effectively do away with a free market in farming and food production."


Horizontal payments: Unreasonable cross-compliance rules governing so-called horizontal payments were modified thanks to Conservative negotiators. Mrs Girling said: "Initially it appeared that farmers would be required to tick every single compliance box or they would lose their entire subsidy. Even to the extent that just one sheep not properly tagged with an EID (electronic identification device) could mean loss of the whole payment. Fortunately we have managed to get agreement for a much more realistic, balanced and proportionate approach.


Vineyards: Astonishingly, the proposals would see the EU squandering taxpayers' money by allowing "wine planting rights" in regions where only recently growers were being paid handsomely to take vineyards out of production.


Mrs Girling concluded: "I am disappointed with the outcome but we must rise to the challenge of making the best of a bad job. The task now is to minimise the extra costs of this proposal, including new mapping requirements and pressure on the Rural Payments Agency."