07 June 2006

So it's come to this

Many of us remember the current UK Prime Minister and his Chancellor proclaiming that the Common Agricultural Policy must be dismantled. Several years later and there's talk of at last winding down the subsidies to the richest landowners. And what do we read in today's Financial Times?

[T]he British government said yesterday it would fight to preserve the big payouts for large farms, claiming that its blue-blooded gentry were exponents of modern, large-scale, efficient agriculture.

These are big payouts indeed and they go to some of the wealthiest people in the UK as Oxfam to its great credit, pointed out. Now the British 'Labour' Government is resisting efforts to cap them at Euros 300 000 a year (about US$388 000). These sums, let us remind ourselves, come from the European taxpayer and consumer. They take the form of direct budgetary payments and higher food prices. Apart from transferring money from the poor to the rich, they have also played a large part in destroying the rural environment in Britain and the rest of the European Union.

Of course, there's politics involved: the UK Government knows that British farms, because they are generally larger than those on the continent, benefit disproportionately from open-ended subsidies. The remark about 'efficient agriculture' is bogus: UK farming might yield more per farmer (or possibly per hectare) but that is because it uses more capital per farm worker than other countries - largely because of subsidies and generous tax allowances for machinery. The capital-intensive nature of UK agriculture uses more fossil fuels and contributes to rural unemployment.

The British Government knows all this, but it is putting politics above principle. Or perhaps it's being subtle, and in trying to shore up the CAP's jackpot payments to the wealthy it is doing its bit to undermine not only the corrupt, insane, CAP, but the EU itself. I wish I believed that.

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