European Constitution would turn the clock back on agriculture policy – to the 1950s

28 January 2005

European Constitution would turn the clock back on agriculture policy – to the 1950s

The current President of the European Council of Agriculture Ministers, Mr Fernand Boden of Luxembourg, looked rather stunned when confronted this week by the enormous contradictions between the goals of the proposed reforms of European agricultural policy and the completely outmoded text which is the article dealing with that same theme in the European constitution. This text was taken lock, stock and barrel from the old Treaty establishing the European Community and refers exclusively to the increase of production. To my question at to whether he could therefore, given his stated views, be counted amongst the opponents of the proposed constitution, he still owes me an answer.

Agriculture swallows up almost half of the entire EU budget and is for that reason if no other indisputably one of the most important aspects of European politics. This can also be discerned from the fact that the policy reforms attempted since 1992 have proceeded only with the greatest difficulty, as well as from the major conflicts of interest aroused by every attempt at change. During negotiations over the accession of new member states with a large agricultural sector, such as Poland and Hungary, farm policy was a hot potato. So you would expect the writing of a brand new constitution for Europe to provide an opportunity for agriculture to be given some serious attention. Unfortunately this did not prove to be the case. On the contrary, the proposed text flies in the face of everything the EU claims to have tried to do during the last two decades.

According to the European constitution, the goal of agricultural policy is “to increase agricultural productivity by promoting technical progress” and by so doing “to assure the availability of supplies”. In Article 228 paragraph 2 it even provides for the maintaining of “aids for... production and marketing”, despite the fact that for many years battle has raged to uncouple subsidies from production. In 1999 a new system was introduced with the stated aims of preventing overproduction and offering the member states the chance explicitly to take environmental and employment considerations into account in framing their agricultural policies. Yet the new constitution would make this impossible, because Article 228 makes it quite clear that policy in this area “shall be limited to the (above) objectives”, which is to say the stimulation of production.

Was it carelessness or laziness which led those who framed this constitution to limit themselves to producing a direct copy of the Articles from the old Treaty? I ask this question because attempts have been made since 1992 to change the present system of farm subsidies, while in “Agenda 2000” an entirely new approach to agriculture was proposed, one which would incorporate entirely new aims, the increase of production no longer being relevant. On the contrary, Agenda 2000 speaks in terms of overproduction and of the need to construct a policy at European level which would bring this to an end. This is just part of a general tendency, evident for many years, to lay the emphasis on wholly new policy goals such as landscape management, rural development, sustainability, animal welfare and food safety. The reforms brought about by former Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler look also towards increasing the quality of production rather than its quantity, and reward the introduction by farmers of environmentally friendly measures such as periodically allowing a proportion of land to lie fallow. Market interventions must avoid stimulating beef production above the level of demand.

In the new European constitution, all of this is disregarded. Blinkered and old-fashioned, the constitution sees agricultural policy as nothing more than a pure means to bring about the production of more of the same, as if Europe faced famine. Minister Boden does not know what to do about this remarkable text, straight out of the 1950s, and the way in which it goes against two decades of farm policy reforms. Yet there are only two possibilities: either we accept this European constitution, or we give our support to a sustainable and environmentally friendly agricultural policy. As long as Boden refuses to take the radical step of breaking with agricultural reform – and he has promised that he will certainly not do that – then I shall count him an important ally in the campaign against this new European constitution.

This article first appeared on 28th January, 2005, in the Agrarisch Dagblad (Agrarian Daily)

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