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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 21, 2012
Polska… tastes good!
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On the CAP and Co-Ops
December 21, 2012   
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By Stanisław Kalemba, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

The debate on changes to the Common agricultural Policy continues. Unfortunately there is still no approved European Union budget for 2014-2020. Disputes are ongoing, and the dominating tone is the need for budget cuts. It’s worth noting that all this commotion surrounding the budget concerns about 1 percent of the EU’s total GDP.

The problems of the CAP are clearly visible in this context, too. It might be as well to remember that today’s main supporters of a budget cut liberally took advantage of what the CAP could offer when modernizing their own farms. Suffice to say that about 90 percent of the EU budget was spent on this first common policy. Today, meanwhile, this spending stands at just 40 percent.

The latest meeting of the EU Council of Ministers for Agriculture and Fisheries was held at the end of November and included a discussion, suggested by the Cypriot EU presidency, summarizing the changes in the CAP after 2013.

The debate showed that there are still many issues to be agreed upon and a compromise is a long way away, especially as regards direct payments. We highlighted the need for simple solutions, transparent to farmers especially in terms of the CAP “going green.” The current proposals fail to meet these expectations.

As far as the joint organization of agricultural markets is concerned, the talks focused on the issue of maintaining production quotas. Regarding sugar market regulation, the majority of countries (14 members, including Poland, Germany and France) were in favor of keeping sugar quotas until 2020, contrary to the European Commission’s proposal on abolishing these quotas as of September 2015. Once again, I motioned in favor of the need to maintain milk quotas. Milk quotas, however, enjoy less support among the EU agriculture ministers, who are demanding further work on means of protecting this market against crisis situations.

In terms of rural development, many of the ministers appealed for an appropriate budget for this program. A lot of attention during the discussion focused on the new rules for supporting areas with difficult conditions. A large number of countries propose that the new delimitation of these areas be delayed. The Polish delegation also suggested that the required limit (25 percent) for agricultural environment programs should be capable of being used to finance a wider catalog of environmental services, e.g. support for Natura 2000 areas, forestation etc.

As you can see, the talks are very tough and nothing suggests they will be any different in the near future.

Meanwhile, another year has drawn to a close, one which the United Nations proclaimed the International Year of Cooperatives. In this field, Poland has a tradition spanning more than 150 years, and though Britain is considered the birthplace of the cooperative movement, as that was where one of the first cooperatives was set up in 1843, I think the precursor was Poland, or Stanisław Staszic more exactly, who founded the Hrubieszów Agricultural Society within his estate in 1816.

Unfortunately during the communist era in Poland the state did not pursue the right kind of policy toward the cooperative movement and—I regret to say—no such policy is being followed after the changes of the past 20 years. Meanwhile, this is an idea well tested around the world and in the EU, especially in its old member states which can serve as a model worth copying. Many economists point out that cooperatives play a special role in the economic system. Their unquestioned pluses include joint operations, the activation of farmers and food processing businesses, better resistance to fluctuations occurring in the economy, sustainable development and stable sales.

Unfortunately, the years of political transformation in Poland have not yet resulted in a genuine rebuilding of this movement. Above all, we need to understand the unique character of the cooperative movement. This form of activity is different from typical capital-based, capitalist operations. This is especially prominent today, during the crisis. Present-day challenges, globalization in particular, actually require intensification of measures aimed at consolidation. This is a very good time to rebuild a genuine cooperative movement. I am convinced that the awareness of farmers and political leaders will grow quickly and they will notice the common benefits to be gained from this form of cooperation.

We have won substantial recognition around the world as producers of very good food. Thanks to the hard work of farmers and the processing industry in 2012 we achieved record results in international trade in agrifood products. We cannot stop at this, however. I see further opportunities for new achievements in this area in accelerating the integration and consolidation processes. Otherwise we will not be able to provide sufficient quantities of quality produce.

I am sure the development of joint forms of farming will gain momentum and exports of top-quality food from Poland will continue to develop rapidly.
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