Abolition of CAP urged by Hurd's backers

THE ABOLITION of the Common Agriculture Policy in its present form is being advocated by supporters of Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary.

Some of those close to the Foreign Secretary believe the continued expansion of the European Union will make the cost of the CAP no longer supportable.

One option being advanced by Mr Hurd's colleagues is for the CAP to be 'repatriated' so that Britain would pay what it could afford for agricultural support within Britain. The direction of the fund from the centre in Brussels would cease.

The change would make the cohesion fund - under which the rich countries pay more to the poorer regions - more important. Britain would still contribute to the cohesion fund, which may replace the CAP in giving European-wide support to agricultural communities in under-privileged areas.

It is unlikely that ending the control of Brussels on CAP spending would reduce food mountains in Britain. The Government could not contemplate ending intervention, which would provoke a rebellion by the agriculture industry.

But demanding more control of EU agriculture spending would be a vote winner for the Prime Minister in a 1997 general election.

'Abolishing the CAP is off the record at the moment, but it will be on the record within a year,' said one source close to Mr Hurd.

The fact that those close to Mr Hurd are prepared to consider such dramatic changes to the structure of the CAP will strengthen the demands by Tory 'Euro-sceptics' for a two- or three-speed Europe.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, publicly contemplated Britain opting out of developments to the EU at the weekend. 'What would happen in the unlikely event of our failing to persuade our partners to agree to a development of the community in the way in which we want it to develop . . . is that we would exercise our veto against changes that we didn't like,' he said on BBC Radio.

The French are expected to be opposed to the plan, but John Major and Chancellor Kohl are reported to be in broad agreement on the need for more fundamental change to put on the agenda for the 1996 EU inter-governmental conference.

The CAP was reformed in 1992 to switch support from the end product towards the producer. British farmers gained, but the englargement of the EU from 12 to 16 members to include Austria, Finland, Norway and Sweden, will push the CAP budget to the limit.

Mr Major told Der Spiegel, the German news magazine, that he wanted further expansion of the EU to the East. Mr Hurd regards as inevitable and proper the eventual expansion of the EU to embrace Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

German sources are reported to have said planning should begin now on the options for the 1996 conference in preparation for further expansion of the EU.