CAP is something we can be proud of
Letter to The Financial Times, 23 September 2002
Sir,Certain critics blame many of Europe's difficultiesand the world'son the common agricultural policy. The media often take these criticisms on board without appropriate detachment.
The CAP is accused of encouraging overproduction. This is not fair. Butter mountains are things of the past. The CAP has been able to control production and at the same time allow ever-increasing levels of imports. The European Union is a big importer of agri-food products. We are far from being "fortress Europe". Storage, when it occurs, is for strictly sanitary reasons or for dealing with limited cyclical situations.
It is also claimed that the CAP, with its emphasis on production, encourages pollution. Let us not forget that, when Europe adopted the model in the 1960s, it was primarily to feed the population of a continent that was not self-sufficient. Production for its own sake is something else. Improvement of Europe's competitiveness came at this price. But today rational agricultural practices are developing and it is more than 10 years since the EU developed agri-environmental measures, confirmed by decisions taken in the context of Agenda 2000. Since the 1992 reform, followed by Agenda 2000, the changeover to sustainable agriculture has been steady, maintaining market competitiveness and contributing to the protection of the rural environment, while seeking to respond better to consumer demands.
It has also been said that the CAP was responsible for the BSE (mad cow disease) crisis. In reality, it was a lack of, rather than excess of, European policy that favoured its spread. Quality has continued to improve over recent decades. Food is safer now than 20 years ago. It is consumer reaction that has become stronger and that is good.
It is also widely asserted that the CAP costs Europe too much. But the financial framework agreed in Berlin has been largely respected and support for agriculture amounts to less than 1 per cent of total public expenditure by the EU and Member States, compared with 1.5 per cent in the US.
Some also claim that the CAP is responsible for causing hunger in developing countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Agriculture in some of these countries, particularly in Africa, is primarily concerned with promoting self-sufficiency in food. This is seriously undermined by destruction of traditional agriculture in favour of cash crops, which encourages an increase in imports and in the indebtedness of these states. Production of crops such as cocoa and coffee depends on the markets for primary products, which have nothing to do with the CAP.
Let us stop the false accusations. Let us be justifiably proud of the progress made over the last 40 years. Together we can build a future for our agriculture. We wish to make a constructive contribution that respects the programme agreed in Berlin.
First, let us tackle the problems that exist in a number of production systems and correct the imbalances. Let us also reaffirm that farmers should be able to live on the price paid for their products and to absorb the costs arising from environmental requirements, food safety and food quality. Then let us reconcile farmers and society, a task that needs sufficient numbers of contented producers with confidence in the future to ensure the economic balance of all our territories and to maintain the diversity of our landscapes.
Last, let us put in place an ambitious policy for rural development and agri-environmental incentives that is less bureaucratic and more effective. Above all, let us be proud of building together an agricultural policy that meets our vision for our European civilisation. This is what we call our European model of agriculture, as validated in Berlin.
For us, agricultural products are more than marketable goods. They are the fruits of a love of the land that has developed over many generations. For us, Europe could never be a fortress isolated from the rest of the world. Europe should be proud of its model of rural civilisation, which it should do more to explain and share with others. It has been able to show the way through its "Everything but Arms" initiative, which other countries would do well to copy. Farmers must not become the "variable adjustment" of a dehumanised world. We see them as full participants in our society.
Yes, our ambition for Europe is a modern agriculture in which people and the land will play a part. Only by respecting these principles can we give tomorrow's enlarged Europe the agricultural policy it needs.
[Signed:] Fernand Boden, Miguel Arias Canete, Armando José Cordeiro Sevinante Pinto, Hervé Gaymard, José Happart, Wilhelm Molterer, Joe Walsh
The above are ministers of agriculture for, respectively, Luxembourg, Spain, Portugal, France, Wallonia (Belgium), Austria and the Republic of Ireland