U budgets, or Multiannual Financial Frameworks (MFF) as they are also known, are not an ordinary topic of conversation around the water-cooler nor down at the co-op. However, while attention by the majority has been on the continued conversation around government formation following an eventful election, EU budgets may have an even bigger impact on rural
The farming community has been increasingly subjected, as of late, to intense focus on a range of issues, from climate change adaptation to water quality and animal
welfare, by European parties and commentators. It was with total shock that we learned of proposals to actively cut the budget for farmers to provide these very things.
A whopping €53.2bn was proposed to be cut from the Common Agriculture Policy to the Council of the EU, where the heads of each EU country sit. This slash to vital farm funding was spearheaded by the so-called “Frugal Four” leaders from Austria, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
These countries, in
response to the UK leaving, have rejected calls by countries such as Ireland to
increase contribution to the overall MFF. Portraying themselves as the fiscally
responsible opposition to what is a clear need for greater commitment may be popular domestically for these countries, but this may be disastrous not only for EU farmers, but for the European project as a whole.
While to some CAP may be seen as an issue for farmers only, the focus must be returned to the CAP’s original purpose of providing safe, affordable food while complying with the demands of EU regulations and EU consumers — something of huge importance to all of those who are citizens of the EU.
While budgets are always contentious issues, be that farm budgeting or even our own national discussions on spending and “fiscal space”, EU negotiations are not only contentious, but can also be drawn-out affairs. With so many countries with competing interests, agreement is a difficult task.
Countries such as Greece and Italy which have dealt with a heavy burden of
immigration can understandably argue for greater funds to deal with the refugee crisis. Other countries believe that with comments from US commander-in-chief Donald Trump about being reluctant to protect European allies, the EU should spend more on defence funding — a sensitive issue for a country like ours with a
history of neutrality.
However, the greatest victim of this “frugality” may in fact be European ambition on a number of fronts. The new EU Commissioner
Ursula Van Der Leyden described the “European Green Deal” as akin to the EU’s ‘man on the moon’ moment. But importantly when JFK proposed to put their man on the moon, he
directed significant funding to the goal rather than slashing budgets to science and R&D. Regardless of how farmers may feel about these environmental ambitions, we will no doubt be put front and centre. With cuts to both direct payments — which help to underpin compliance with the directives of the EU — and cuts to Pillar 2 funding, this ambition seems more pie in the sky than JFK’s space program ever was. A meagre ‘Just Transition’ fund of €7.5bn will not even begin to cover the losses to farmers even in the
unlikely event it was all
directed at agriculture.
The other great tentpole of European ambition has been the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy many farmers are eagerly awaiting details of. Again, in this area the idea that less funding for farmers to
ensure we can play a role is making a mockery of this ambition.
Whether EU citizens are concerned by the security and quality of their food as a primary goal or the provision of goods and services which benefit all such as clean air, clean water, or biodiversity, no one can conclude that these can be achieved with reduced
The greater challenge overall now will be how to address not only the hole in EU budgets left by the UK’s exit, but also the question left by Brexit of the EU’s
very future direction.
At a time when we should be seeing greater ambition from the EU towards its citizens, of which provision of safe food is a key aspect, and a strengthening of the European community, this signal is deeply worrying.