Democrat January-February 2012 (Number 127)
The case for withdrawing Britain from the CAP*
Two EU common policies have done British agricultural and fishing industries a disservice, namely the CAP and the CFP. Successive governments have stated they want radical changes to the CAP but failed to achieve this. This has not come about because decisions on the CAP are taken by the agricultural Council of Ministers who meet in secret and largely use the qualified majority voting (QMV) system where Britain is in a permanent minority.
Most of the contributions made to the EU Budget by Member States are spent on the CAP. This includes a whole range of subsidies in sections ranging from tobacco to olives and in the past for set-aside and destroying food surpluses. Subsidies are important for agriculture but they should be decided by national governments in a rational manner and in the interests of all farmers and consumers. Such decisions should and must not be taken by an unaccountable set of ministers each with their own agricultural and political interests in mind. Such a system is undemocratic and is without accountability.
In the general discussion about CAP it is recognised that France in particular followed by Germany and Italy are the Member States who consistently block changes to the CAP. For example in France it is the CAP subsidised small farmers who return governments who in turn keep the CAP system in place. In Germany the large farmers benefit most from the CAP money. In Italy it is accepted that fraud is a large part of accruing CAP money. In Britain agriculture has been seriously distorted by the problems which stem from the CAP. The circular blame is played where CAP critics find that Westminster says Brussels is at fault and we can' so anything about CAP and Brussels says the problem rests with Westminster which does not apply CAP rules.
Britain is part of the Single European Market where there is free movement of capital, services, goods and labour. That includes unrestricted imports from other Member States. Sections of British agriculture has faced and continues to face acute competition brought about by the unequal distribution of CAP monies as well as different and higher levels of subsidies in other Member States. This distorted and unfair competition is counter to the interests of farmers and consumers.
Britain pays billions into the EU Budget which comes from taxpayers. In effect the money comes from pockets and purses and transferred to bank accounts of farmers in other Member States.
It is time to withdraw Britain from the CAP and for the government at Westminster to control a key industry in the best interests of both the agricultural industry including small to large farmers and the consumers. This would restore one aspect of democracy with accountability which is seriously missing in the current situation where the eurozone and the EU are in deep crisis. Britain is best out of that melting pot.
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* At the Oxford Farming Conference on 4 January a debate took place on the motion, "This House believes British agriculture could thrive outside the European Union". Prior to the debate Farmers Weekly (23.12.11) carried two pieces the above for and one against by Lord Plumb former President of the NFU and President of the European Parliament.
The motion was unexpectedly passed by 195 to 186 votes and represents a major shift amongst farmers and their view of the CAP.