CAP reform process is a recipe for disaster

NFU president Peter Kendall has called them a pig’s breakfast. Other high-profile critics have complained, more politely, that they fail to address the urgent issues we face. And many practicing farmers have despaired at the prospect of more complicated regulations that will make it more difficult to do our job.

I refer, of course, to Dacian Ciolos’s proposals for the reform of the CAP when the current system runs out at the end of 2013.

I won’t repeat the details as they might affect the UK – they’ve been summarised (from the original 1,500 pages) in previous issues of Farmers Weekly. But I will try to shed a little light on the system that gave birth to them and to the complex and time-consuming route they must travel before they, or some modified version of them, must follow before becoming EU law. There are, for instance, almost 30 stages they must go through and it is highly unlikely they will stay the same when (or should I say if) that happens.

I would go so far as to suggest some of the ideas included in this first official version of the package have been deliberately inserted to be bargained away during horse-trading over coming months. And given the virtual impossibility of satisfying the wishes of ministers representing 27 member states, months are likely to turn into years and it could well be 2015 before any changes come into force. Meanwhile, the existing regime will presumably stagger on – so long as the euros don’t run out.

In the days when there were only 10 member states, I was often in Brussels with TV or radio programmes to report on the final stages of farm price negotiations. It involved the burning of a lot of midnight oil in smoke-filled rooms but a resolution was usually achieved and announced by bleary-eyed agriculture ministers in the early hours of the morning after they were scheduled to agree. I remember thinking then that this was a funny way to run Europe’s most important industry.

Imagine how much worse it must be now. There were always geographic differences to accommodate, but at least the 10 member countries were roughly on a par economically. But today the priorities of Germany, for instance, are radically different to those of former Soviet Union countries – or Greece – as they try to catch up with the rest. And the extra numbers ensure negotiations are almost impossibly complicated.

As always, the agriculture commissioner writes the proposals for change, having consulted member states first. In the past it was left to agriculture ministers to reach agreement. Now, however, MEPs get in on the act as well, and given all their inevitably disparate demands, you have to wonder if there can ever be agreement. And if there isn’t, the entire exercise fails and they have to start again.

Behind all this there are lobbyists attempting to influence commissioners, ministers and MEPs. At the last count, there were about 15,000 based in Brussels. Not all of them are interested in agriculture and rural life, of course, although a significant number are, given that our industry accounts for 40% of the EU budget. Farming interests are pursued by representatives of the various farmers unions in the UK who work with COPA, the body that speaks for all farmers across the EU. Needless to say, not every delegation to COPA agrees with every other.

Is it any wonder the result is unlikely to satisfy anyone? A recipe for chaos – or what?

David Richardson farms about 400ha (1,000 acres) of arable land near Norwich in Norfolk in partnership with his wife, Lorna. His son, Rob, is farm manager.

What do you think about CAP reform? Will it reach a satisfactory conclusion or it is a recipe for chaos? Have your say on our website forums.

Read more from all our Opinion writers.

See more