EC sets sights on simplifying CAP regime

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Common agricultural policy European union

Experts from around Europe gathered in Brussels this week for a
two-day conference on simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy.

Keynote speakers included agriculture and rural development commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel and enterprise and industry commissioner Gunter Verheugen.

The results of the conference will now feed into the Commissions ongoing efforts to reduce the bureaucratic burden on farmers and national administrations. Cutting red tape is a major priority for the European Commission.

"The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has a reputation for complexity,"​ said Boel.

"That is why it is one of my major priorities to simplify it."

Indeed, the purpose of this simplification is to make life easier for those working in the food chain and to cut the bureaucratic burden on administrations. Boel insists that simplification is not about scrapping the CAP as such, or about weakening controls over how we spend taxpayers money.

The CAP has come under close scrutiny of late. The disclosure that the European Commission spent nearly €5bn more on agriculture in 2005 than it did in 2004, according to the 'Allocation of 2005 EU expenditure by Member State', has angered some who see the CAP as a monumental waste of money.

Furthermore, over 90 per cent - €44.7 billion - of the EU's agriculture spending went to 'old' member states. In fact, every fifth euro in agricultural expenditure went to France in 2005, with 20.7 per cent. France is followed by Germany (13.5 per cent), Spain (13.3 per cent) and Italy (11.4 per cent).

Such figures suggest that the huge agricultural subsidies the EU has become infamous for remain rigidly in place, with little possibility of reduction. The Common Agricultural Policy still makes up the biggest share of EU legislation.

But Verheugen said the EC recognised the need for change, and insisted that the CAP has always been capable of modernising.

"Our objective is to eliminate excessive bureaucracy in the Common Agricultural Policy,"​ he said. " We are striving to have modern and simple European legislation and we will only achieve this if the Common Agricultural Policy is also on board."

Boel has already undertaken an action plan containing 20 proposals for practicalchanges. The Commission is planning in December to table a proposal for asingle Common Market Organisation to replace the 21 CMOs which currentlycover the different agricultural markets.

This, she said, will allow the repeal of 35 Council Regulations and will increase transparency, improve the quality of legal texts and reduce costs for national administrations and companies.

"We must not be blind to the fact that we may come under pressure to find savings in the CAP and that certain issues such as compulsory modulation and capping may also have to be addressed in terms of the broader, societal acceptance of our reformed CAP,"​ she said in Finland last week.

"This subject will be without doubt on the table in the mid-term review of the 2007-2013 Financial Framework which the Commission has been requested to undertake in 2008/9."

Boel admitted that some view this date as the moment when the CAP should be dismantled or radically changed. But she insisted that a strong CAP was vital to Europe's well-being.

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