Only three members support CAP reform
By Amanda Cheesley in Brussels and FWi staff
EUROPEAN Commission plans for radical reform of the Common Agricultural Policy only gained support from three member states in Luxembourg yesterday.
At an EU farm minister informal meeting in Echternach, only the UK, Sweden and Denmark could broadly support the plans, although the UK foreign secretary Robin Cook said they should be developed further.
The plans aim to slash EU cereal support prices by 20% by 2000, beef support prices by 30% by 2002 and dairy by 10% by 2006. Farmers would be partially compensated by the cutbacks in price support by an increase in direct aid.
But the reforms have come under attack from 12 ministers, with German farm minister Jochen Borchert arguing that they are totally unacceptable in their current form and need to be modified considerably to gain support. The Bonn government is reluctant to support the reforms and risk alienating the powerful German farm lobby before next years elections.
Mr Borchert said the plans would cause the ruin of hundreds of farmers in Germany, and warned that German farmers would lose about 15-20% of their incomes under the proposed reforms. Meanwhile, French farm minister Louis Le Pensec said reform would take at least two years to negotiate.
But UK foreign secretary Robin Cook said reform was essential prior to inviting former Communist countries into an expanded EU. He said the current system where nearly half of the communitys £60m budget went to four percent of the population was unsustainable especially when you consider that unemployment in the EU was approaching 20 million.
Defending the plans, EU farm commissioner Franz Fischler said with the EU geared for expansion to include its eastern Europen neighbours, and the next round of World Trade Organisation talks in 1999, CAP reform was necessary if EU agriculture was to survive on the world arena.
He stressed that if the CAP remains unchanged, the EU would have to stand by and watch as beef and grain mountains start climbing again by 2001 at the latest – with no hope of exporting them.
The other option would be to forcibly cut back on production, resulting in Europe setting aside 20% of its arable land if it did not embrace reform. However, Mr Fischler said society would “not tolerate” seeing a quarter of Europes fields lying fallow while having to pay high taxes to support the livelihoods of farmers.
Mr Fischler also said price support would not guarantee farmers incomes in the long term. In addition, he claimed that if farmers were fully compensated for the price cuts it would lead to overcompensation and resulting in a blowout of the CAP budget.
The CAP reforms face a long haul before there is any chance of adoption. They are due to be discussed by ministers at forthcoming agriculture councils, before they are set to be endorsed by heads of state in December.