Translate this rhetoric into a political initiative

Share

Sparring between London and Paris reached new heights yesterday, when Tony Blair issued an open challenge to Jacques Chirac on the need for urgent reform of the EU budget. Where earlier exchanges have smacked of pure posturing, however - Mr Blair laying into the Common Agricultural Policy in response to M. Chirac's calls for a speedy end to the British rebate - the Prime Minister's words in Moscow may have contained the kernel of something more serious.

Sparring between London and Paris reached new heights yesterday, when Tony Blair issued an open challenge to Jacques Chirac on the need for urgent reform of the EU budget. Where earlier exchanges have smacked of pure posturing, however - Mr Blair laying into the Common Agricultural Policy in response to M. Chirac's calls for a speedy end to the British rebate - the Prime Minister's words in Moscow may have contained the kernel of something more serious.

Standing beside Vladimir Putin, Mr Blair said there could be no discussion of the British rebate "unless we discuss the whole financing of the EU, including that 40 per cent of the budget that goes on agriculture which employs only 5 per cent of the people". The message was double-edged. It could signal only that Mr Blair intends to compromise just as little as M. Chirac undoubtedly will when the two men meet today. It could, on the other hand, have been a hint that everything to do with the EU budget - including the rebate - will be in play once Britain assumes the EU presidency next month.

And the truth is that revisiting the massive amounts spent by Europe on farm subsidies - and by the United States, too, which has the equivalent of a CAP in the form of the US Farm Bill - would be rather a good idea. For it is indeed preposterous that so much of the EU budget should be spent on a sector which employs so few. Worse, it is spent in such a way that it does great harm to the poorest people on the planet, the farmers of the Third World, and at great cost to the average European consumer - around £16 a week for the average family of four in taxes and higher food prices.

At one time, there was a point to it. When the policy was conceived in the 1950s, Europe was a very different place, still traumatised by memories of war and hunger. The CAP was intended to guarantee self-sufficiency in food, stability for farmers, and greater agricultural productivity. But after a decade of success, it began to produce surpluses, giving rise to the notorious food mountains of the 1980s. It also took a great toll on the environment, since it encouraged an industrial style of agriculture, high in chemical and energy use. Hundreds of thousands of miles of hedgerow vanished, along with their resident bird and wildlife populations.

But its most devastating impact is in poor parts of the world such as Africa. Cheap food, exported with the aid of subsidies, is dumped in developing countries - often at prices well below what it costs local farmers to produce the same thing. With no alternative means of earning a living, many Africans are left destitute. The CAP deals a double blow, because it also reduces the potential for developing countries to export farm produce to Europe. For years, the average European cow has received almost $2 (£1.10) a day in subsidies - double, grotesquely, the daily income of the average African.

Defenders of the CAP insist that reform is already in train. In 2003, Europe's ministers had what they called a radical rethink which "de-coupled" subsidy from actual food production, and allocated it according to the area of land a farmer held. The changes are being implemented this month. Early projections suggest, however, that production levels will remain largely unchanged. And while, under the rules of the World Trade Organisation, the EU's reform will be judged a success, some $1bn a day will still be spent so that EU, US and Japanese farmers can sell their food cheaply in poor countries. Just as before, too, the bulk of the subsidies will go not to the poorest farmers, but to a handful of agri-businesses. And none of this is due for review until 2013. The best thing Mr Blair could do today would be to translate his rhetorical threat into a real political initiative - and invite France to be the first to sign up.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

David Cameron talks big but is waving a small stick at the Russian bear

Kim Sengupta
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003