There is no doubt that the European Union is being tested by new challenges. The United Kingdom is leaving us, the refugee crisis demands new European solutions and the United States of America no longer draws up trade agreements but embarks on unilateral national initiatives.
It’s a pretty interesting time for political scientists, as differing political strategies emerge simultaneously and therefore with one another. Yes, an alternative exists and it’s up to us to convince people of the better alternative.
The budget debate, i.e. medium-term financial planning, is strongly influenced by these new political facts; but numbers can sometimes be cruel.
After exiting the EU, the UK, as a net contributor, will leave the EU budget €12bn short each year. At the same time, member states have earmarked an additional annual budget of €10bn for new projects. Inevitably, the usual budgetary questions are now being asked. Do we want to increase revenue?
Where can we make savings? European agricultural policy must also be part of this discussion.
The common agricultural policy can be traced back to the foundation of the European Community, over 60 years ago. Thinking back to the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the first area regulated by the European Community was the agricultural sector.
Today, European standardisation and grants in this area amount to €56bn, or around 40 per cent of the EU budget. It is important that we communicate this clearly to EU citizens.
Visualising the abstract budget volume, that’s 30 cents per EU citizen per day to provide a diverse range of food, support companies in environmental matters and provide farmers with the freedom to be entrepreneurial.
All environmental and investment programmes in rural areas are also financed from the agricultural budget. Clear communication will ensure that European society recognises the importance of the common agricultural policy to its own food security.
Renationalisation tendencies in western countries, a warhorse in the White House, a potential trade dispute with the USA - these developments are warning signs. We can’t afford to be starry-eyed and we can’t rely unreservedly on previously trusted partners in case of doubt.
There are issues arising from these new challenges that simply must be financed. European security policy, the European refugee crisis, the protection of European external borders - the list is long and the money is short. Member states look to Brussels for solutions; however high expectations of the EU also require a willingness to make sacrifices, even financial ones. There must be a balance between revenue and spending.
This also applies to the common agricultural policy. Anyone who sees the CAP as a central point of the common policy (as it should be seen) must pay more. I expect that from the member states; it is to some extent a declaration of faith.
With the next multiannual financial framework budget being set and given the lack of funding from Brexit, we are forced to think about what we want. I support simplification and less bureaucracy and I regard both as feasible, even if subsidiarity is preserved in agricultural policy.
Farmers know their fields best, regional administrations know their agricultural sectors best and the member states know best how to deal with local climatic conditions best. The weather in the north is different from the weather in the south, different fruit varieties grow in one area but not in another.
Therefore, generally binding and billable targets must be set at EU level. It will be the responsibility of the member states to implement these goals as part of a national design.
Bureaucracy is not a compulsory component of a common European agricultural policy. Dismantling bureaucracy means reducing costs and these dividends could also have a direct impact on the budget.
Therefore, I see the biggest challenge being implementation. Will the member states be able to translate the general target indicators into simple national measures?
With his new ‘delivery system’, agriculture and rural development Commissioner Phil Hogan is certainly trying to give member states the freedom to make a real push on reducing red-tape.
Mind you, this is not about the relationship between the Commission and member states. Rather, it is primarily about the relationship between regional administrations and farmers. We should not forget that the main partner of our agricultural policy is not national administrations, but farmers.