CAP reform demands face criticism at Green Week

The British government has come under sustained attack at the Berlin International Green Week over its persistent calls for further CAP reform and its insistence on voluntary national modulation.

Austrian agriculture minister and current farm council president Josef Proll said that, after 14 years of reform, farmers desperately needed a period of stability.

“We need to let our farmers get on with the job of farming,” he told over 5000 delegates at the Green Week opening ceremony.

 “We must put an end to this eternal call for yet more reforms.”

German farm leader Gerd Sonnleitner also accused the UK government of “poisoning the political atmosphere” in 2005 with its constant attacks on the CAP.

“Let us hope that this is not repeated during Austria’s presidency, nor during the subsequent Finnish presidency,” he said.

But the strongest criticism came from EU agriculture commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel.

“The UK has recently published a vision of EU agriculture.

While I welcome all contributions to the debate, the vision of a merely industrial agricultural sector as presented in the UK paper is not a vision I share,” she said to tumultuous applause.

Agriculture’s role went way beyond just producing food.

“It is an indelible part of our social and environmental fabric and I want it to stay like that,” she told the ceremony.

Mrs Fischer Boel also attacked the UK government for its insistence on including voluntary national modulation of up to 20% as part of the recent EU budget deal.

She told journalists she regretted the fact that EU heads of state had put far less into the rural development pot than she had hoped for – 70bn (48bn) against 89bn (61bn) over seven years.

But raiding farmers’ single farm payments to make up the shortfall, as the UK was planning, made her both “angry” and “disappointed”.

“For me voluntary modulation, not even co-financed (by government), is the first step towards re-nationalisation of the common agricultural policy and I am against it,” she said.

“From my point of view, voluntary national modulation will create unequal conditions for farmers in different member states.

That is something I do not accept.”

German agriculture minister Horst Seehofer confirmed that it was “very unlikely” German farmers would have to pay more than the 5% compulsory EU modulation – at least for the next few years.

“We made it clear in our election statement that we would not change Pillar 1 supports (direct payments), and I believe we should stick to that promise.”

This was despite growing pressure on all government departments to save money in an attempt to revitalise the sluggish German economy.

Unlike most other member states, there was no official British presence at the Berlin Green Week to defend the government’s position.