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Saturday, August 16, 2003

CUT THE CAP In the current edition of the Spectator I've just discovered this amusing though ultimately enraging article. It seems that the recently instituted reforms of the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) have lead to a sudden rise in the number of bankers who are buying up farms. These bankers are doing this in order to receive a tax-free status and EU-subsidy money:

[A]s a gentleman farmer you might produce nothing more than a few pints of goat's milk for your friends, but that does not matter under the new CAP so long as you can convince officials that you are in the farming business. This will not be difficult. Indeed, it is possible to give the impression of being a farmer without doing anything at all, ... the arduous tasks one associates with farming become entirely unnecessary when one abandons any hope of making money from the enterprise.


What taxpayers won't get for their 43 billion euros is the justification for setting up the CAP in the first place: a guarantee of food security in times of war. Were war to break out in Europe in future, Europeans would turn to their land and discover some very contented animals, some very well-tended meadows looked after by some very leisurely farmers, but no guarantee that any food is produced at all. In fact, the incentive would appear to be to produce anything but food.

Now I've never bought the line, that Europe desperately needs this policy to have a guaranteed food supply in times of war. What kind of a war could that possibly be? The only scenario would be for a war, which dragged on for years in which a blockade managed to shut down all import routes to Europe. Historically this happened to Napoleonic France about two centuries ago and to Germany in WW1. Given that these two countries are the main axis that drives on the EU, I can see how their politicians would have been animated by the trauma of national defeat to ensure that they were never again put into such a position.
Strategically though it never made any sense. If the Cold War had turned hot there were two scenarios. In scenario one the invasion by Warsaw Pact troops would immediately be escalated into nuclear firestorms by in which case we wouldn't have needed any food because there wouldn't have been anybody left to feed. In scenario two Nato and the Warsaw Pact would have clashed conventionally on the territory of West- and East-Germany. If the war wouldn't have been over due to a complete communication breakdown after a few hours it would not have lasted no longer than perhaps the two to three weeks that would have been needed either to re-create the pre-conflict stalemate or for American reinforcements to force the Warsaw Pact into capitulation.
Whatever scenario had occurred in all of them an established agricultural sector with the prospect of long-term production stability is unnecessary. In today's security environment it looks no more convincing. A large-scale blockade of the EU isn't going to happen, very simply because there is nobody who could do it. Could terrorists block transport lanes? They could try but escort shipping like in WW2 and the same actions that were taken against pirates should suffice to solve the problem.

The only slightly realistic possibility is that a coup or other breakdown of order would end the flow of goods from one supplier country. Now if others couldn't fill the gap, wouldn't this be an irresistible incentive for the EU to conduct a real foreign policy that has meaning other than sticking its tongue out at George Bush. If our food depends on order and development in the poor countries, particularly in Africa, which are far more suited to agriculture than modern day Europe, the European Union's policies would be forced to focus on actually helping these countries.
One way to help would be to drop the CAP, which bars poor farmers from exporting into the EU, while simultaneously making European farmers to overproduce and then dump the excess on the world markets. There on the world markets the subsidy-sponsored Euro-products help, along with their Japanese and US counterparts, to make African farming produce uncompetitive and thus shut down the most promising route open for these poor countries to start a proper course of economic development and stand on their own feet rather than being on the mercy of the EU's aid budgets and the other transnational welfare bureaucracies.

As an ending I'll post this little gem Clark has for us, about the different absurdities that the CAP has brought forth in the past:

My favourite concerns Italian cattle farmers who were offered a subsidy for slaughtering cattle which officialdom deemed to be surplus to EU requirements. Since payment was made upon the presentation of a pair of bovine ears, it wasn't long before a strange new breed of earless cow started to appear in the fields.

And all that 43 billion euros. What a load of CAP!

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