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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » May 27, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Bold Reforms Needed
May 27, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development:

The Common Agricultural Policy is among the oldest European Union policies. It was based on two premises: providing consumers with an adequate amount of food at affordable prices and ensuring a proper parity of income for farming families to prevent rural depopulation and consequently the need to import food.

Are these objectives equally important today? I have no doubt that they are. The EU has half a billion consumers, consumers who increasingly often demand top-quality food produced with proper respect for the natural environment. At the same time, demographers are telling us the world population will double over the next 30 years. This population growth will be accompanied by growing demand for food. Can Europe afford not to be a part of this growth in food production?

As we can see, the challenges of the present day are extremely serious. At the same time, requirements regarding the conditions of animal and plant production are growing constantly as well. Animal welfare, environmental protection and ecology are very important issues, but are also costly. They cause a decrease in the competitive edge of European farming at the same time as talks are being held within the WTO and among the Mercosur countries. These talks bring specific threats stemming from attempts to allow agricultural products onto the common market that are not produced under the same requirements as those applied to European farmers.

An additional threat to European agriculture is the disruption of conditions of competition by the current system of support for agriculture which in fact has resulted in 27 agricultural policies. The situation today is that some countries assign 85 percent of funding to directly supplement farmers’ incomes and only 15 percent to development and modernization.

The problems briefly outlined above show the magnitude of the challenge involved in changing the Common Agricultural Policy after 2013. This is all the more important in that planning in agriculture is done years in advance, and in reality the new directions for the CAP will determine the conditions of development for a whole generation of farmers in the EU.

An analysis of the situation to date, coupled with the dangers related to the increasingly strong penetration of agricultural markets by speculative capital, means that it is becoming crucial to develop new, effective mechanisms regulating the agricultural sector as a whole.

From the start of the discussion on changes to the EU’s agricultural policy, Poland has favored a few fundamental directions of such changes. First of all, we should stop thinking in terms of individual countries and replace this with developing a framework for a competitive European agricultural sector. For this to happen, the new Common Agricultural Policy has to be simplified significantly. It has to become a policy comprehensible to all, clearly determining equal conditions of competition and limiting bureaucracy to an essential minimum. It is high time to abandon unjust, historical rights to payments. The system of direct support should become transparent and coherent. Its main task should be to compensate for costs related to the requirements of environmental protection and ecology.

Meanwhile, the other part of the funding, which I think should be 50 percent of the total amount, should be earmarked for the second pillar of the CAP, namely rural development and modernization.

Such a general framework for the functioning of European agriculture should generate more specific tasks. It is only once such a Common Agricultural Policy after 2013 is built that a financial framework can be added.

Taking into consideration the necessity to fulfill the requirements related to environmental protection, ecology and animal welfare, I think the budget for agriculture under the new Financial Perspective should not be lower than the current one.

In summary, I can say that our vision of reform comes down to a clear division of tasks within the two pillars. In the first pillar, this would involve support for farmers fulfilling the requirements of mutual compliance, with payments being based on measurable and objective criteria. The second pillar would involve support for active farmers who focus on development, modernization and innovation, and in effect on their ability to compete not only on the common market but also the global market.

I am convinced a decisive and bold reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will give European agriculture a competitive edge, a capacity for development and will ensure food security for the common market’s half-billion consumers.
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