On Thursday November 18th, Dacian CioloÅŸ presented his roadmap for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. A key issue for citizens across the EU in their everyday lives, agriculture and agricultural subsidies are currently at the centre of tough negotiations between Member States. Distributing subsidies among farmers, protecting biodiversity, food quality, price volatility... the Commissioner responds to readers’ questions.
Watch the video of the interview (10'54) :
Bernard M. : The future common agricultural policy – reform or revolution?
Dacian Cioloş : For the last few decades, the CAP has been in continual reform. These reforms were not revolutionary and this is the aim of the current reform i.e. not to bring about revolution but to develop the CAP by giving farmers basic stability and continuity. If the CAP was fundamentally reformed every three or four years, we would lose our way.
The reform includes several stabilising factors such as maintaining direct payments, structural policy and rural development as well as market measures. Nonetheless, the content of the CAP pillars will be slightly different. Direct payments will not be distributed on the basis of historic criteria but based on objective criteria that are applied to all Member States. There will be more equitable distribution of these payments which will be more closely linked to clearly defined objectives.
Market mechanisms will intervene as a security net, as income protection for farmers so that they can be competitive in a marketplace that is becoming more and more open. Other mechanisms will aim to better manage the diversity of the European Union’s farms. Furthermore, there will be more flexibility and adaptability for Member States concerning in particular the 2nd pillar, for structural investment programmes, modernisation, increased competitiveness, but also for encouraging farmers to better integrate climate change issues, to make better use of innovative practices and applied research as well as creating closer links between these points and quality of life in rural areas.
Terres Conseils: Should farmers continue to receive subsidies even though it distorts competition?
Dacian Cioloş: Let’s not forget that more than 90% of European agricultural production is consumed within our market. We also have a quite high level of local consumption of food products. Agriculture plays an economic role through agricultural production but it also plays a role in management of natural resources and management of land. To me, these three CAP objectives mean that public intervention is very clearly justified for supporting agriculture across all European territories.
Concentrating agriculture solely on certain regions that are favourable would create even greater pressure on the natural resources of these regions and thus an increase in the risk of pollution as well as rural desertification and other kinds of environmental problems.
Currently, demand for food on a global level is increasing and so the EU needs to continue to ensure its market is supplied. Therefore, in my opinion, now is not the time to be reducing production capacity.
Alain S./ Francesca G.: How can farmers be enabled to “live off their work”?
Dacian Cioloş: I think it is completely normal that farmers want to make their living from their work and, in this sense, there are things that can be done to improve the distribution of value added along the agrifood chain. This is starting to be addressed through certain measures within the CAP framework but also with some legislative proposals that the Commission is about to make for certain sectors, dairy in particular.
However, farmers must recognise (and an increasing number of them do) that their work is partially remunerated by the market but that another part, and this part is important for society, is not. All the agricultural practices to ensure better management of natural resources, biodiversity, for specific quality and safety of their products are not factored into the price of products they sell. The cost for meeting these standards cannot be passed on to the consumer either as the public good is at issue which benefits society as a whole.
So to me it is normal that society as a whole, i.e. taxpayers, should make a financial contribution to farmers’ incomes in recognition of the services that farmers provide to society. I think that what now needs to be done with the CAP is to better demonstrate this public good that farmers provide. This goes alongside their products for which they are remunerated by the market – a remuneration which needs to better reflect input.
Nadège C., Notre Europe : How can Member States be convinced to maintain a significant budget for the CAP?
Dacian Cioloş: It is not just the ministers for finance that need to be convinced but the European Parliament because budget-related questions are now subject to codecision.
The aim is to put proposals for the future CAP on the table that are in line with the expectations of European citizens. Insofar as these expectations are consistent and significant, we need commitment at European level that the funds made available to this policy are in line with expectations.
The Commission presented its position on the future of traditional policies in the CAP in its budgetary revision. Here, it clearly states that the common agricultural policy must remain a significant public policy with consistent support.
Also, let’s not forget that while there is a sizeable budget for the common agricultural policy at community level, this is because national budgets for this same policy are very low as a result of communitisation. As such, we have a strong community instrument at a time when we clearly need more Europe to be able to meet the challenges facing the EU Member States. Logic therefore points to strengthening the CAP, not weakening it.
Franka D. : Will new Member States receive as much in farming subsidies as the old ones?
Dacian Cioloş : It is true that the gap between new and old member states is extremely visible but there are also gaps among new member states and even among old ones.
Continuing to separate member states into new and old is not a good approach. Rather, the EU 27 should be treated as a whole while respecting the diversity that exists. Direct support for agriculture should be distributed on the basis of objective criteria which take this diversity into account as this would be more equitable (although not equal as production conditions are not equal across the EU). Greater equity means applying the same principles in the same way in all Member States to all categories of farm, then taking into account natural differences.
There will thus be a process of redistributing direct payments on the basis of objective criteria. Of course, a transition period will be needed to ensure that the changes do not fundamentally affect the balance that is currently in place in some agricultural sectors.
F. Lenoir : Why has the CAP not succeeded in creating high-performing agriculture in Eastern Europe?
Dacian Cioloş : Reform in Eastern European countries started immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Restructuring systems of production and reorganising the markets was and is a lengthy process and the same will probably be the case for restructuring economic systems in general and agricultural systems in particular.
This reform has sometimes been painful and I hope that it will be less so in the future. What is clear is that the CAP needs to be able to propose instruments to regions and Member States that can continue to support the processes of restructuring and modernisation in order to increase competitiveness. These agricultural structures also need to find relevant markets that are adapted to their potential and production capacity.
Robijns T., BirdLife International : What role will biodiversity play in the future CAP?
Dacian Cioloş : I think that the future CAP will promote biodiversity better than in the past through incentive measures, both for the first and second pillar. Responsibility for these obligations cannot be carried solely by farmers.
In the 1st pillar, we will have an approach that is more global, horizontal, general and European to encourage farmers to move towards practices that are mindful of biodiversity and soil and water quality. The 2nd pillar will promote agrienvironmental measures which can be coupled as required by Member States according to the specific characteristics of certain regions, certain systems of production or classes of undertakings.
In this broader context, organic farming will undoubtedly find its place alongside other systems of production that focus on product quality as well as agricultural practices.
Luis Manuel S. : Why does the CAP have to maintain two pillars rather than grouping all mechanisms under a single pillar?
Dacian Cioloş : I think the issue of the number of pillars in the CAP is not important. Ultimately, the pillars are instruments like any other.
The important thing is the approach. What we will have is direct support for agriculture at European level that is general and annual in order to reach Europe’s general objectives. At the same time, given the diversity of EU Member States, they also need flexibility, a multiannual approach that enables the system to evolve and adapt to various levels of local demand from one year to the next.
Find out more :
Multimedia animation about the CAP - Touteleurope.eu
The Common Agricultural Policy - Touteleurope.eu