Farmers must promote CAP

FARMERS have been urged to be the voice of the Common Agricultural Policy, and inform the public how it provides for everybody – not just farmers.

It’s a timely message from Agri-Aware, the organisation funded by the agri-food industry to project an accurate perception of the industry among the general public.

It’s timely, because after 2013, farmers may have to compete for their income subsidies with the country’s hospitals, schools and colleges, and the other needs of the nation.

To a large extent, this is already the case. However, taxpayers are more acutely aware of what our government takes from us to keep this country running (which costs €20 billion per year more than the Government can raise from us) than of the taxes which are taken from every European, about 40% of which are spent on the Common Agricultural Policy.

There’s a lot of argument now over how to finance the EU. Money is scarce everywhere, and member states want to reduce their direct contribution to the EU budget.

When all the arguments are made, probably at around 2am in a meeting of heads of state some morning in January 2013, farmers are likely to find themselves depending more than usual on national co-financing, instead of what may have seemed to be “free money from Brussels”.

So Agri-Aware has picked a good time to launch their ‘Farmers Play Your Part!’ CAP 2010 campaign, designed to inform citizens on the importance of agriculture, and why Ireland should spend more of its scarce national public funds on agriculture – because the EU wants to spend less.

Specifically, EU Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski says farm aid should be reduced from about 40% to 33% of EU spending, so that more public money can flow instead to research and innovation.

As usual, history is repeating itself. A decade ago, the Prodi Commission suggested the CAP budget be cut to 30% of the total EU budget, but Commission President Prodi was outmanoeuvred by his Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, and the CAP budget has increased each year since then, with the bulk of it being ring-fenced up to 2013 by a deal made by the French and German heads of government in 2002. Now, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned that he is willing to trigger a “crisis in Europe” if anyone tries to “dismantle” the Common Agricultural Policy.

But, if Europe is still struggling financially in 2012, the scenario that could win agreement from all 27 member nations could well include a move towards greater national co-financing – in other words, more of our tax money going directly towards our farmers.

That’s why farmers are being asked to help tell the public how the CAP guarantees their access to safe, quality, traceable food at all times. It helps Irish farmers produce the quality foodstuffs that Ireland is internationally renowned for, and which are behind one in seven Irish jobs. It helps farmers act as stewards of the countryside, protecting wildlife, maintaining waterways, hedgerows and ecosystems, through co-existence of farming and nature. Agri-Aware has developed a set of communication tools, designed to help farmers get the merits of the CAP across in the most effective, understandable way possible.

An information booklet, website and seminars will equip farmers for the task.


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