12 June 1998
Give farmers’ money to townies,
By Johann Tasker
FARMERS subsidies should be slashed and the money redirected to cities, according to an influential think-tank report to be sent to Number Ten Downing Street.
“Half of the European Unions budget is spent on the Common Agricultural Policy – yet just 6.5% of European citizens are farmers,” says the report by London-based think-tank Demos. “Resources should be reallocated from country to city and programmes to celebrate cities encouraged.”
The report, launched in London this week, is the result of a six-month study which found that just 4% of Europeans see farming as a priority.
“Although the vast majority of Europeans live in cities, most of the EUs budget is spent on the countryside,” the report says. “In the future, Europe will need to rediscover its urban identity.”
Mark Leonard, the reports author, told FWi: “Obviously as a think-tank we hope the report is going to be as influential as possible. It will be sent to a number of European leaders, including Tony Blair. Its not just about the Common Agricultural Policy, but cities are being undermined and yet the vast majority of the population live in them.”
Demos is partly funded by Northern Foods and Tesco. Northern Foods chairman, Christopher Haskins, is a Demos director. Tesco chief executive, Terry Leahy, is a Demos advisor.
“We contribute to a number of think-tanks from across the political spectrum,” said a Tesco source. “Some are on the left, some are on the right and some are in the centre. Its about new ideas and being in tune with the Labour governments vision of the future. But Mr Leahy doesnt have any control over the editorial content of the Demos report.”
Running the EUs Common Agricultural Policy this year will swallow almost £30 billion – equivalent to about 48% of the total EU budget. But according to the National Farmers Union, spending on agriculture is so high because other expensive policies, such as defence, health, and education, are funded by individual member states, rather than by the EU itself.
“The CAP needs reform but it doesnt need abolishing,” said Ian Gardner, NFU policy director. “But the EU is not a fully fledged government, so comparing what is paid by Europe to whom is pointless without taking into account national government expenditure on other policies – you have to be very careful.”
The Demos report seems bound to be read by government ministers, however. Demos is described by The Economist as “the most influential think-tank in Britain,” and three Demos employees work in government departments. Demos co-founder and director, Geoff Mulgan, is currently on extended leave while working as an advisor to the Prime Ministers Policy Unit.
Demos already has a number of successes under its belt and is widely credited with being the brains behind Tony Blairs “Cool Britannia” ideas. The government has already used many of its other suggestions to re-brand the country in the run-up to the Millennium.