The Coalition Government is about to launch a full-scale attack on the notorious European Common Agricultural Policy by demanding fundamental changes – a move which Tony Blair attempted and failed when he was Prime Minister.
In a keynote speech yesterday, the new Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman – a former agriculture lobbyist in Brussels – said that a new policy soon to be negotiated must be “fundamentally different.”
Speaking to the annual Oxford Farming Conference, she said that subsidies must be moved away from production towards schemes which benefit the environment – which the UK is already doing.
We made the switch after Blair held negotiations with the French President Jacques Chirac, but the Frenchh who are the major recipient of EU funds, decided to delay such reforms until this year.
Now that those changes are supposed to be introduced by 2014, the French and other EU countries like Poland are showing a deep reluctance to implement them.
Said Mrs Spelman: “The CAP continues to distort trade by maintaining high EU prices. This gives rise to high import tariffs and the use of export subsidies to clear market surpluses – all of which undercuts production in developing countries. This is morally wrong.
“To continue as we are threatens to snuff out the transition we need towards a market that can sustain EU agriculture in the future. Moreover, the fairer allocation demanded by new member states – with which I have sympathy – threatens to entrench subsidy dependence further. This must not happen.
“We need to make the new CAP fundamentally different. It must be about the new challenges of achieving global food security and tackling and adapting to a changing climate.”
Since Britain joined the then Common Market almost 40 years ago, there have been repeated attempts to reform CAP – which consumes some 40% of the entire EU budget – but they have always been frustrated, mainly by France.