» Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)

Asked about the Prime Minister’s remarks about CAP reform at PMQs and whether he was saying that we should get rid of it, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said we should take one step back and look at what the policy had been all along. Our policy all along had been to get rid of subsidies for crops because we believed that was a distorted way in which to support the rural economy. Therefore what we had always argued for was a managed process of change in which you maintain sustainable livelihoods in the countryside but didn’t do so at the expense of distorting world trade. That was why we had always argued for fundamental reform of CAP and we recognised that there had been some progress in that direction but we were arguing for more. We would continue to make that case throughout our EU presidency

Asked if we had not already gone to a new system, the PMOS said that in terms of the CAP as a whole we were still in the situation where some 80% of the existing budget was directed towards the original 15 member states, therefore that did not allow the spending to be prioritised towards providing the infrastructure support that accession countries needed. Therefore we still had a distorted system. That was also why we had long argued for the EU to be radical in its approach to the WTO round in terms of the CAP. Therefore we had constantly argued for the need to not just make the changes that had already been made but to take further steps as well. We also needed to keep making the switch into supporting the rural economy as a whole rather than specifically directing it one way. Asked what exactly the Prime Minister wanted to get rid of given that we had already gotten rid of direct subsidy for crops, the PMOS said we needed to change the traditional concept of the CAP, the traditional concept was still one in which most of the money went to the original 15, rather the new accession 10. Precisely how that worked out was exactly what we needed to negotiate with our EU partners. We could not dictate what a deal might look like. The important thing was that we had that process firmly underway. That was what we were arguing for at the Brussels summit and that was what we would continue to argue for.

Asked if would prefer to return to a system of national subsidy, the PMOS said in terms of the detail, that was something we had to negotiate with our partners. It would be wrong to put out a negotiating position today. We should recognise however that the CAP as it was traditionally seen and even as it was today was not something we believed could stay unchanged.

Put to him that the Prime Minister had said that the ultimate goal was to get rid of the CAP all together, the PMOS said that there was a danger that we could get hung up on words, rather than focus on the substance. The substance was that the CAP as traditionally conceived and as it currently existed did not, we believed, meet the needs of the rural economy in Europe or of Europe as a whole. Therefore we believed it had to change.

Asked whether, should things go our way, there would be a CAP, the PMOS said that there would be a policy which would rightly support sustainable communities in rural areas. There would be a managed process of change. Therefore that would lead to a change in the way in which agriculture support took place. What that would precisely look like was a matter for negotiation. He would not get into that negotiation today. Asked what that would mean for farms in Europe, the PMOS said there was a process in terms of change within the agriculture industry which already pointed in the direction of more efficient farming and so on. That was obviously part of it. That process, as everyone would be well aware, had been going on for years.

Asked if we would be prepared to give up our rebate in return for a promise of renegotiation in 2008, the PMOS said that what we had said very clearly was that a process should have begun by 2008. How that process was defined was a matter for negotiation. Asked how, given that the Prime Minister was a supporter of free markets, he supported any system of subsidy, the PMOS said you had to have a managed process of change. Therefore we recognised the need for a managed process of change that resulted in viable, sustainable communities. You could not have a situation where we went into another decade where 40% of the EU budget was spent on 5% of the population.

Briefing took place at 15:45 | Search for related news

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