A FEW years ago, I found myself sitting beside the then Lady Provost of Dundee at a function. In an effort to make conversation, I remarked I had seen her official limousine with driver outside the hotel and asked if she attended many events.
Her response was in broad Dundonian: “I just get barried about from here to there.” For the rest of the rubber-chicken meal, I contemplated a mental image of the lady, not in her sleek black automobile complete with chauffeur, but being taken around in a wheelbarrow.
This past week, Dacian Ciolos, the European Union Agricultural Commissioner, rolled into town surrounded by policy advisors intent on keeping the Romanian diplomat on course during his mini tour of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Now I would say that Ciolos was not just getting – in the Dundonian patois – “barried around”, leaving him with little control over direction or speed of travel. His purpose was to sell his version of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to those who had their own ideas as to how best to provide future support for farming.
As someone who has expressed doubts about Ciolos’s policies and priorities, my verdict on last week was that he made a fair fist of both defending and then promoting his thoughts – but he did not persuade me they were right.
I was not surprised when he gave a robust defence of the amount of money required to operate the CAP. With finance ministers about to set the whole European Union budget later this autumn, he pointed out that the CAP was the only common policy across Europe and to weaken it at this time would be crazy.
All politicians defend their own budgets and he was no different, but when I look at the economic mess in Europe, I still have doubts about how much of the current CAP cake will survive.
Equally, I was not surprised when he held tightly to his much-criticised environmental policies. He rejected the claim that taking 7 per cent of land out of production was folly at a time when food prices were hitting new heights.
He argued strongly that the proposed Environmental Focus Areas could be on largely unproductive land, and in a concession the 7 per cent of land could come from a group of farmers or within a parish where some farms might have more and others less such land. It was a concession, but as I was thinking of the bureaucracy needed for such a madcap scheme he was stressing his wish that the next CAP will involve less paperwork.
Ciolos also neatly ducked the question of linking production with support, saying that the UK as a member state did not currently use the permitted allowance and if Scotland wanted more linkage then it should negotiate with England and the other devolved states.
Ciolos’s visit was all very civil but – as far as I and other critics of his policies were concerned – little had changed.
And this is where his trip to the Republic of Ireland all becomes more interesting, as the Irish are seen as big players in any CAP reform and they do not like Ciolos’s proposals one little bit.
Take the language last Friday of John Bryan, their farming union president, when he described the current CAP proposals as “senseless” and then embroidered that with graphic descriptions of how much the policies would destroy agricultural production in Ireland.
Ireland holds the presidency of the European Union for the first six months of 2013 and this time slot will determine just what type of CAP there will be up to 2020. My bet is it will be far removed from what Ciolos would like it to be.
If I am allowed to use the analogy of the CAP being a vehicle, I would suggest that it will be in Ireland where the wheels fall off the barrow containing the commissioner’s proposals.
Meat Trade News Daily Supporting British Pig Farmers
Source: the scotsman
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