Taxpayer support for agriculture is money well spent and should not be cut without a thorough assessment of what it is achieving.
Addressing the Taxpayers’ Association of Europe on Monday (14 May). EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel insisted that the common agricultural policy (CAP) was “good value for money”.
There were many myths about how much was spent and what it delivered, but these were often outdated and inaccurate.
“In 2007, the CAP accounts for 46% of the European Union’s central budget. That compares with about 60% in the 1990s and 70% in the 1980s.
“And it’s still falling: we expect the figure in 2013 to be about 42% – of which 9% will be for rural development.”
Unlike most policy areas, agriculture and rural development policy in the EU received most of its funding from Brussels, rather than from national budgets, she added.
“If we look at total public spending in the EU – including items like social security and defence – the CAP is a drop in the ocean.”
Mrs Fischer Boel reminded the TAE that there were still many misconceptions about the CAP. “Some memories die hard,” she said. “People remember the days when large surpluses had to be stored at public expense, or exported with the support of refunds.
“But under the latest reforms, production-linked payments to farmers are now on their way out. Nearly 90% of direct payments will be decoupled by 2010.
“Moreover, through the mechanism of cross-compliance, these payments are tightly linked to things that the public wants – high standards of environmental care, animal welfare and public health.”
Market measures, such as intervention buying and export refunds, were disappearing fast, to be replaced by rural development, which would account for nearly 20% of the CAP budget by 2013.
Mrs Fischer Boel was speaking after receiving the TAE’s annual European Taxpayers’ Award, in recognition of her getting rid of export refunds on live cattle exports in December 2005.