EU Grapples with Costs of Subsidizing Agriculture

Dacian CiolosEuropean Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos wants to reform Europe’s agricultural policy, but resistance from the farming lobby threatens to derail his plans. It will be to the detriment of citizens, who are expected to pay for a highly subsidized industry is harmful to the environment (…..) Without the Reform, Subsidies Could End Completely. The showdown over agricultural policy will be on the agenda in Brussels in the coming weeks, not for the first time. But in contrast to past showdowns, this time it will not be dominated solely by the Commission and the leaders of the EU member states. The European Parliament will also be given a say in how the billions in subsidies to farmers are structured. The contest is still seen as undecided, although a thing is clear: If farming lobby does manage to block Ciolos reform, a much more unpleasant debate could follow, namely whether the billions in subsidies in current form are justifiable at all. “There are actually only 2 socially acceptable justifications for payments to farmers,” says agricultural expert Lutz Ribbe of European Nature Heritage Fund. One argument, explains, is that the money can supplement the meager income of farmers, thereby preventing farming lifestyle in Europe from going extinct. Other is that farmers can provide vital aid to the environment in return for support from the taxpayer. But poor income is hardly an issue anymore for farmers. Global market prices have almost doubled since 2005. According to calculations by the government-run Thünen Institute of Rural Studies, larger farms recently made an average annual profit of about €160,000, of which about 40% was financed with the taxpayer money. Farmers are also increasingly profiting from the boom in alternative energy, as they rake in millions with biogas plants and wind turbines that they operate on the side. This leaves environmental services Ciolos is calling for. If they don’t materialize, says agricultural expert Ribbe, “there will no longer be any justification for direct payments, they’ll have to be eliminated!” Environmental groups like Friends of the Earth Germany, as well as the Greens, tend to agree. Bärbel Höhn, deputy chair of Green Party’s parliamentary group, says: “It must be clear to farmers that social acceptance for direct payments hinges on ‘greening.'” This explains why EU Commissioner Ciolos has absolutely no intention of giving up the fight. He visited Germany several times last year and spoke to farmers there. “They repeatedly criticized items that aren’t even included in reform.” Dacian Ciolos says that he was surprised by this “almost ideological opposition to things people haven’t even understood.” Ciolos is quite disconcerted by the chancellor’s aim to bring up the issue at the EU summit on Thursday and Friday this week. If Merkel actually manages to cut in half already minimal environmental offset areas on farmland, says Ciolos, it will mean that Germany is doing nothing at all. “We can talk about details, but there are certain red lines, as far as I’m concerned”. “I will not accept a bogus reform.” The Commissioner is adamant in defending his views, other commissioners before him have expressed similar opinions. They are gone now, but defenders of the status quo are still around.

Link: http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/european-union-debates-environmental-costs-of-agriculture-subsidies-a-881447.html

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