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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » October 27, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Common Agricultural Policy Reform and Polish Priorities
October 27, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
The European Commission has unveiled its plans for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy. But Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos’s proposal can hardly be called a reform.

With full responsibility and, unfortunately, regret, I have to say that the legislative package announced in mid-October is not a reform in any sense of the word. All it does is attempt to make cosmetic changes.

There’s nothing in the proposal that could point to a desire to move away from the current stagnation and toward a development policy based on promoting competition. Many new administrative burdens have been proposed, which is contrary to the expectations of all the ministers as well as most European politicians—and thus hampers the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy.

I would like to note that the situation in which the European Commission—while seeing the need to establish new criteria for allocating funds and evening out payment levels—is proposing that this leveling-out is in fact spread over a period of 14 years, adds an ironic twist to the debate that has been going on in this area for two years. It’s an ironic twist because everyone was expecting that the single European market would be based on the principle of not interfering with competition, which would also apply to politicians. By maintaining an unequal level of payments, this principle is strongly undermined. The situation in which the European Commission acknowledges that it is necessary to move away from the historical criteria of eligibility for payments and replace these with new entitlement criteria, adds another ironic twist to the debate. How else can one describe that? After all, farmers who 20 years ago obtained their historic rights to the payments on the basis of the reference crop yields at the time, or on the basis of their dairy and beef cattle herds, will now have these transformed into new rights, which will be detached from the farm and convertible into securities.

The overriding question is if taxpayers’ money spent on the Common Agricultural Policy is supposed to take the form of securities for the farmer, owner or leaseholder, but not tied to the farm or production process? Is the idea of direct payments—30 percent of which would be “green,” or in other words conditional on whether the farmer protects the environment or not—a simplification? After all, all European farmers will have to meet the same requirements, but farmers in the Baltic states will be getting just over 10 euros, Polish farmers around 50 euros, and Greek or Maltese farmers 180 euros for the same tasks.

All this explains why I will be expecting not only a profound debate, but also a revision of the package. I will be strongly urging other member states to do the same. I have no doubt that Europe can afford to make its Common Agricultural Policy a policy of growth and development, and not a policy of stagnation, and prove that it is more than just an easy way of redistributing EU contributions.

Nor does the European Commission’s proposal, alas, provide an answer to the new challenges. It can be clearly seen that European Commission officials still have their minds back in the 1980s and 1990s—when Europe was struggling with an overproduction of food—and are refusing to acknowledge that the world’s population is set to double by the end of the century.

If the Common Agricultural Policy reform were approached in terms of the purpose that this policy should serve, not in terms of allocating funds and maintaining the existing system of benefits, we would certainly be dealing with one of the more active policies in the EU, one designed to support economic growth. Paradoxically, however, the crisis which is beginning to knock so hard on the doors of individual countries may change the way of thinking.

I highlighted this kind of risks while referring to the report by German Eurodeputy Albert Dess. This explains why, during an informal meeting in Wroc³aw of EU ministers for agriculture and fisheries, I came up with the proposal that, in the context of the new tasks resulting from the Lisbon Treaty, the debate be held in public with the participation of the European commission, european Parliament and representatives of farmers and specialists.

Speaking about the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, it is necessary to mention other activities undertaken in the EU. Recently there has been a lot of talk about helping the poor. I’m critical about the proposal to reduce funds for this purpose fivefold. This mechanism has worked well for 20 years, and I believe that today, at a time of crisis, this program should continue at the current level, because even in the richest countries there is no shortage of those on the edge of poverty. To my mind, reducing funds contradicts the idea of solidarity.

There has also been discussion about the so-called quality package. I am convinced that this is a good idea that will make it possible to label, regional, local and traditional products in a better way. This will meet the expectations of consumers, who are increasingly eager to buy such products, praising them for their distinctive features, quality and taste. This diversity and richness of flavors testifies to Europe’s culinary heritage, which should be not only protected but also supported and promoted.
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