26th Feb 2024

Brussels steers clear of radical farm policy shake-up

  • The farm review is expected to be adopted by member states in November, under the EU French presidency (Photo: European Commission)

The European Commission has adapted keenly expected health-check proposals on the EU's farm policy to the current situation of rising food prices, suggesting various ways to help the sector boost production and respond to market demands.

Mariann Fischer Boel, EU agriculture commissioner, presented the final version of the farm policy review to the European Parliament on Tuesday (20 May) after a two year-long political debate in national capitals and EU institutions.

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"Some claim that we're now playing a totally different ball game," she said, referring to an everyday "avalanche of media headlines about rising agricultural prices, their causes and their impact around the world."

In a bid to react to the price trends, the EU executive is proposing to abolish current rules on keeping 10 percent of farm land fallow, which could bring four to five million hectares of idle fields back into production. Brussels is also suggesting phasing out milk quotas by April 2015.

"It's not the time to start micro-managing European farm production, pushing and pulling the levers of policy week by week to hit targets set in Brussels," Mrs Fischer Boel argued, defending the proposed ways to allow farmers to freely respond to market signals.

Another key measure is further "decoupling" - scrapping the link between EU direct subsidies to farmers and their production levels, which had been introduced in some farming areas.

The commission also wants a cut in handouts to all farmers receiving more than €5,000 a year, by raising the current size (5 percent) of their pockets to be transferred into the Rural Development budget up to 13 percent by 2012.

On top of that, bigger farms would lose some extra cash although in less dramatic cuts than earlier envisaged (by 3% for farms receiving more than €100,000 a year, 6% for farms over €200,000 and 9% for farms over €300,000).

The member states could use the money obtained from EU coffers through these cuts for climate change programmes, as well as for projects to boost renewable energy, water management and biodiversity, the commission suggested.

Rocky road ahead

The proposal is still expected to spark criticism in Germany as well as among some central European countries with a tradition of collective farming, amid concerns it could lead to administrative break-ups of the most efficient farm enterprises.

Britain and Sweden have signalled their dissatisfaction with the review as a whole, as it would still leave the EU spending almost a billion euro on subsidies, as part of the bloc's oldest common policy which eats up over 40 percent of the annual EU budget (worth over €100 billion).

UK finance minister Alistair Darling recently argued in favour of scraping any state interventions in the agrosector through CAP, a message set to fall on deaf ears in Paris, with French farmers still receiving the biggest part of the EU farm handout.

But commissioner Fischer Boel herself dismissed the UK position, saying on Tuesday: "The market has a very important role to play, but left to itself, it will not care for our landscapes or respond to other public demands."

"If we strip farming of all defences against occasional crises, we gamble with our food supply," she added.

The farm review is expected to be adopted by member states in November, under the French presidency starting in July. Next year, the 27-strong bloc will seek to agree on overhauling the EU budget, including farm subsidy levels from 2013.

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