This month the European Parliament will have a golden opportunity to make some ambitious changes to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Yet the signs are that many MEPs will opt for the status quo, and vote against much needed reforms.
Although the proportion of the EU budget going to agriculture has declined in recent years, it still makes up almost 40% of the total budget. But it’s not just the huge amounts of money involved; agriculture is vital to the UK as well as Europe as a whole.
So we need to support a CAP that is modern, green and fit for the future. It has to meet the needs of farmers and rural communities, while ensuring society at large also benefits. This is public money and must be used for the public good.
However, when the reforms were voted on in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee a few weeks ago, it was clear that MEPs on the right and centre right were more intent on voting for narrow sectional interests. In some cases they supported the fairly conservative Commission proposals, in others they actually voted for an even weaker alternative.
For our part, Labour MEPs and our Socialist and Democrat colleagues will continue to campaign for some bold and important changes.
We want the CAP to support more environmentally friendly farming, which is why we believe farmers should only receive direct payments when they commit to measures to protect biodiversity.
We also want to see a greater focus on rural development, so that rural areas can become more competitive while still retaining our rural heritage.
There should be an end to unfair and inefficient spending of the CAP budget. Believe it or not, under the current proposals, some farmers could be paid twice for implementing environmental protection measures. We would like information on who is receiving payments to be made publicly available, and we’d also like to see an end to costly and outdated measures that hamper efficient producers, such as sugar quotas and planting rights for vine growers. When it comes to exports, the EU must honour its commitment to phase out export subsidies, which put agricultural producers in developing countries at a disadvantage.
The CAP reforms are complicated. Terminology which includes coupled payments, ecological focus areas, risk management toolkit, and cross compliance rules is never likely to engage everyone.
But what isn’t complicated is the clear need for changes to the CAP which will benefit all of us, changes which we’ll be voting for, compared with those on the right voting only for more of the same.
The arithmetic may be against us; the right and centre right hold a majority in the Parliament, in the same way as the majority of EU governments are also on the right. But it’s not too late for constituents to pressurise their own Euro MPs to vote for changes which look to the future rather than the past.