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EU food reforms should not be rushed, warns Boel

By Anthony Fletcher , 02-Mar-2006

Those demanding quicker CAP reform should bear in mind the current speed of change and take into account the successful legacy of the EU's food policy, argues the European agriculture commissioner.

"There is absolutely no doubt about our overall direction," said Mariann Fischer Boel, member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development.

"I don't think anyone could accuse us of laziness in our reform programme. The CAP is being reformed, with the full impact of the recent decisions still to work through the system."

Speaking this week at the Bush Capital Club in Canberra, Boel said that those who claim loudly that the CAP 'needs reform' should be listened to with caution. She said that social welfare and the health of the environment have always been central to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and many of the policies have had a positive impact on Europe's food sector.

"The CAP as conceived in the 1950s and 1960s laid a heavy emphasis on boosting production," she said.

"The 1957 Treaty of Rome stated a number of goals for agriculture, including an increase in agricultural productivity, ensuring a secure food supply at reasonable prices and giving the agricultural community a fair income.

"Over the next few years, the EEC developed the tools to achieve these aims: a free internal market, and high domestic prices maintained by import tariffs, export subsidies, and intervention buying when markets were weak."Boel accepts that this was protection, but says that this was a logical response to the situation facing Western Europe at that time.

"But of course, the right answer for one period may not be the right answer for another. The financial incentives of the CAP made production increase more quickly than consumption, and by the 1970s and 1980s heavy surpluses had appeared."

She also agrees that the sorts of tools used in the old-style CAP have not been completely abolished. Some EU member states have used their right to keep a linkage between subsidy and production in some sectors, where there is risk of land abandonment.

"However, this only represents about 10 per cent of the direct payments to farmers," she said.

"If there are lines which we are not prepared to cross, that is not because we are seeking to protect a right to over-produce. We have made an enormous effort to make the CAP rational and fair for the 21st century, and we want any deal in the Doha Round to respect that, not demand yet more of us."

The crux of Boel's argument is that there is a dividing line between healthy speed and damaging haste. She said that it is her job to make sure that Europe does not cross this line.

"I think my job will be much easier when more people understand just how quickly we are already moving," she said.

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