Should Environmentalists Adopt a Principled Position on CAP Reform or Compromise?
Environmentalists long looked like the natural enemies of the CAP. The policy stimulated intensive production and did little to promote sustainable farming practices. Now the smarter of the organisations defending the CAP are bidding to ally with the environmentalists. The European Landowners Organisation proposes land management organisations, green governmental and non-governmental organistions, and DG Agri should work together for a new contract between society and farmers that ensures food and environmental security.
This sounds very nice. And it could work. Environmentalists would get support for enhanced agri-environmental payments, additional funds for research into sustainable farming, more money for eco-tourism and alternative energy production on farms, and other desirable items. In exchange, they would tolerate that the CAP budget remains high and that a good share of the money continues to go as windfall profits to farmers and landowners. The logic of the deal would be that it is better to get 15 billion a year for the environment out of a 50 billion CAP budget than 10 out of, say, 25.
That is a dangerous scenario. It would mean keeping too much EU money tied to agriculture rather than investing it where it creates most value. This would partly be at the cost of environmental spending outside agriculture. But the biggest concern for environmentalists should be that they are likely to find themselves on the losing end of the deal. Here’s why.
The budget review calls for reason, even when it comes to agriculture where this is another word for revolution. The budget review’s principles imply that EU money should be exclusively paid for European public goods. As it happens, the only European public goods produced by agriculture are environmental. In addition, the principles inherently require more targeted delivery mechanisms, such as individual contracts with farmers and auctioning of environmental service contracts. If thoroughly applied, the budget review thus means that all CAP money will be formally dedicated to and actually pay for environmental services. So the harder environmentalists press for truthful application of the budget review principles, the greener the CAP will become.
Admittedly, the budget review also points towards decentralising policy responsibility, something that preoccupies environmentalists who doubt whether national and local authorities will be as happy as the EU to spend on agriculture. (After all, it would be a pity to see agricultural subsidies depressed just as they finally become more environmentally friendly.) But political realities strongly indicate that reductions in the CAP budget will be gradual. We can be sure that the absolute level of CAP funds will not be the limiting factor for green agricultural subsidies.
Environmentalists should thus take an uncompromising, principled position. They should resist the invitation to blur their message so as to find common ground with moderate vested interests. Environmentalists have proven to be the main societal force for agricultural policy reform over the last decade. Only if they polarise the debate and mobilise the public with a clear message of change will there be sufficient pressure on governments to agree on fundamental reform. Otherwise green interests will be the loser in last-minute, behind-the-door deals driven by the old habit of avoiding protest by countries and farmers whose payments are to be cut. To put some numbers on it: It is better to get 20 billion out of a 30 billion CAP budget for the environment than ending up with 10 out of 50.
02 Apr 2009
Valentin Zahrnt is a Research Associate and Resident Scholar at the European Center for International Political Economy based in Brussels.