Friday, November 4

Misleading headline

The title of Richard Bernstein's Europa: Europe's very identity at stake in farm talks is a little misleading that Europe has experienced agricultural self-sufficiency for decades and indeed exports a great deal of its produce to other countries at highly subsidized prices, more and more voices are being raised to the effect that the CAP, which consumes 40 percent of the European Union's budget, does more harm than good.

... much of the CAP money - hundreds of thousands of pounds a year - goes to agribusinesss and royals, people like Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Westminster. [The current Dutch minister of agriculture] himself came under scrutiny in the Netherlands not long ago when it was disclosed that he receives 170,000, or $204,000, a year in EU subsidies for farms he owns in the Netherlands and France.

"A lot of Europeans think that the CAP is something that supports small farmers, but most of the money goes to the richest people in the system," said Jack Thurston, a former adviser on agriculture to the British government, now a fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

The accusations continue. Poor countries, especially in Africa, complain that the EU subsidies - and American ones, as well - have had the effect of crippling their own farmers because their food exports can't compete with Europe's subsidized ones.

The system is defended against these criticisms mainly on the grounds that it is an essential component of what makes the European countryside vital and special. In this sense, the argument in favor has shifted a concern about ensuring self-sufficiency to ensuring the landscape and the European way of life.


The deeper issue is whether it is correct that the CAP subsidies actually accomplish the rural preservation that virtually no one in Europe would oppose, whether, in fact, that beloved countryside with its fields of wheat and makers of cheese, where Britons and Germans flock to buy vacation homes, would die if the CAP subsidies were eliminated.

"There's certainly a case to be made for a European rural and environmental policy, but my contention would be that handing out large amounts of money to large farmers is not the way to do that," Thurston said.

"The OECD shows that farmers only get a quarter of the cost to taxpayers and consumers of subsidizing farmers, because most of it goes straight into profits for the companies that sell tractors and fertilizer to farmers or into higher rents for the land rented to them by rich land renters," he continued. "And a policy that is 75 percent inefficient is not something we should be spending 44 billion a year on."

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