I’m pro-EU, in spite of all its faults, for the reasons outlined in a post back in April.
The way to do it with a clear conscience, just so you know, is to basically turn a blind eye to the Common Agricultural Policy – to treat the CAP in much the way you would an unfortunate, but extremely prominent, pus-dribbling wart on the face of a beloved aunt. You have to simply pretend it isn’t there while hoping that your dear aunt will surely notice it soon herself and toodle off to the doctor to have it removed. But still, despite your best efforts you still occasionally find yourself staring in disbelief and disgust at the hairy, slimy lump that is so horrendously disfiguring someone you love so much, and catching yourself just before the dear relative notices that you’ve started to shy away from her welcoming kiss.
The quote that heads this post is from an interview with EU Farming Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel in the Financial Times – not actually said by her, though it is implied that she would agree with that assessment. (Read the whole thing for a good overview of some of the current problems in the run up to the Hong Kong World trade organisation talks next month.)
As long as the CAP continues to exist, and as long as the EU keeps subsidising an agricultural sector which would likely fail without taxpayers’ money, it will be impossible fully to defend the EU as the great idea it should be. After all, how can you fully defend a system where someone wanders into a government office and says “Hello – I’m really crap at my job, give me some money,” and the faceless bureaucrat simply hands over vast piles of cash? Because that’s effectively what the European farmer is doing to the EU.
The CAP rewards failure, and pays idleness. Which is, of course, why it’s going to be impossible to get it reformed as long as the EU continues in its current set-up. Who, after all, is going to vote to have to do more work for less pay? That’s precisely what we’re asking of (to pick the most obvious example) France whenever we try and push for much-needed CAP reform.
Until Qualified Majority Voting comes into force, as mooted in the piss-poor draft constitutional treaty that was roundly rejected by the French and Dutch voters back in the summer, there will be no way to override the objections of those member states who do well out of the CAP. All of this is just a rather pathetic sideshow, with fancy-sounding calls for intense reform which can not, in the current set-up, ever be delivered upon. It’s much like the perennial cry of the populist right-wing of the Conservative party that “we’ll take back powers devolved to Brussels” – no you won’t, sonny; not without the agreement of all 24 other member states, that is.
And therein lies the problem. By maintaining the individual member state veto, the maintenance of the status quo is always the most likely outcome of any dispute – especially over the CAP. France is not likely to surrender – especially not after so many recent crises for Chirac’s government, from the “Non” vote in the constitutional referendum to mob violence in the towns and suburbs. To back down over farming subsidies is a political impossibility for Chirac and co.
For France to vote for a reduction of CAP subsidies would be like the proverbial Turkey registering his support for Christmas. The French would need to be offered something substantial in return – and most importantly, something substantial that they could also use to placate their doubtless irate populace. And the big trouble is, no matter how hard I think I just can’t work out what the hell that might be.
And thus, once again, we get back to the ducking of the issue which is all that really can be done with the CAP if you’re even slightly in favour of the EU. It’s not only indefensible, but also insoluble.
But the rest of the EU’s great. Honest.