sábado, 20 de fevereiro de 2010

Accidental Farmer’s Remarks Bulletin (II) Back in Brussels

Accidental Farmer’s Remarks Bulletin
(II) Back in Brussels

My first attempt to respond to the kind invitation shown in the CAP 2020 website by giving my contribution was rebuffed by a demand of the credentials of the institution on whose behalf I was speaking before I could submit a 500 words comment.
I tried to convince whoever is in charge of the website that I was the rightful representative of an Accidental’s Farmer NGO, created in this very same instant, but I guess the argument was not convincing since my contribution did not show up.
Being a member of an organisation that actually makes part of the environmental NGO consortia, and actually never being asked to give my opinion on the whole of these issues, I felt strongly how this Brussels spirit of “Pyramidal democracy” is so pervasive.
My mind got back twenty years from now when, courtesy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, I was beginning a six-week tour of the United States by visiting the cabinet of the Republican Senator Arlon Spector from Pennsylvania.

I was accidentally by the lobby of the office when I heard a typical looking like American lady stepping in announcing in a no-less typical loud American voice her name, with a big smile and adding the key expression “elector from Pennsylvania”. The clerk nearly jumped from his chair to receive her, because he was very conscious this lady was his real boss.
And this is what remains to be learnt in Europe. Even in the aftermath of September eleven you needed no other clearance to get into Congress than being an elector. In Europe, however, you need to represent whatever organisation to be allowed to express yourself, not only in front of political institutions, but even before a gathering of NGO’s.
I am a former member of European, national and regional parliaments, I was in political cabinets, in the Portuguese Permanente Representation in Brussels, and a visiting professor on Common Agricultural Policy in the Lisbon Technical University and now a fellow of the GMFUS, but the truth is this organisational background would never allow me to intervene with insight in the subjects under debate if I were not some-one who accidentally became a farmer, and this is why I decided to call this series of notes the “Accidental Farmer Remark’s Bulletin.
And for most I agree with the substance of the bulk of what has being proposed here, I would start my comments on what I disagree, and a fundamental point of disagreement lies with the introductory remark that “The current system is built mainly on historic and obsolete mechanisms” where obsolete works like a sort of superlative to the historic.
European mechanisms, like it or not, became so heavy and complex that it is reasonable to make of 2010 the timeframe for a discussion of 2020. The in-built inertia is enormous, and this is a parameter of the discussion, not a variable, so if one wants to start a worthy discussion of the future, it is a non-starter to dump the past, because it will always haunt the discussion of the future.
And the past is here essential. Food security is the argument we have heard time and again to defend the need for keeping the CAP, or at least, a CAP, since it really defies imagination to see the present CAP mechanisms as insuring any sort of “food security”.
Food security is the main argument of a country like India to not even accept starting any sort of discussions on liberalisation of food markets. In a country where devastating famines are just a too recent memory one can understand how it is unacceptable to see food become just another piece in the global-trade puzzle.
Food security is a natural and understandable concern not only in India. The question is that becoming a food exporter because of food security concerns, means a zero-sum game where our security is obtained at the expenses of somebody else, and this should obviously not be accepted.
Furthermore to the point, and this makes perhaps more sense for a thorough debate in food sustainability, one has to check if having a high-degree of self sufficiency in food really means food-security or sustainable mechanisms.
If self-sufficiency will be obtained through intensive-farming techniques sustained by border protection mechanisms like the CAP ones, food production becomes heavily dependent on imported energy or imported feed-stuffs.
And the reasonable question to ask is whether Europe will become more food secure with a protected agriculture fully dependent on energy coming from the Gulf or with a certain dependency of food from “New-World” producers?
It does not need many energy ratio calculations or geopolitical considerations to guess where we will find more food security.
In the same perspective, we can also ask ourselves what is more sustainable and easier to maintain in case of any food disruption, the import of chicken, pork or beef, or the import of a much larger quantity of soya, corn-gluten-feed or whatever other feed-stuffs plus the energy to transform these ingredients into meat in-doors?
Once again, I believe it will not be difficult to see where the truth lies.
Otherwise, if you answer the protectionist food-security argument with some scholastic liberal religion arguments on the supreme superiority of the market, you risk not be taken seriously with good reason.
The instability of food markets experienced along the past couple of years is an obvious reminder of the need to think in terms of food security and market stabilising mechanisms.
What we cannot do, however, is to think of mechanisms that preserve stability indoors by exporting instability outdoors as, unfortunately, it is still the case of the obnoxious “export restitutions” or to argue for subsidising production methods that are unsustainable.
Modern food security mechanisms that will be sustainable, sensible, respectful of the outside World – and namely of the LDC countries that have been the major victims of our export-restitutions – and that will simply not be a cover-up for bad habits are essential.
It is a non-starter to build a CAP proposal forgetting about them.
But there is more to this argument of history.
To say that the CAP is a victim of its own success, as it was meant to respond the hard times of famine of the Second World War and the reconstruction afterwards but it overshot, by producing too much, is not quite true.
I advise whoever believes this story to read Michael Tracy, who used to be the number one authority on the history of European Agricultural Policies, fifteen years ago, when I dealt with these issues academically.
Conversely, it is also far from reality to pretend that, in 1968, the European Commission, noticing at last that the policy was “over-successful” decided to propose a U turn and to promote structural reform.
From the Stresa initial discussions up to the 1962 “Stopped Clock Council” the European Commission (better, the Commissioner for Agriculture) always stood for structural measures and gave a lukewarm approach to the heavy handed market mechanism approach.
Commissioner Sicco Mansholt – that is, the first Commissioner for Agriculture that stood in this position for nearly fifteen years up to the point he became President of the Commission – was a man of vision, incidentally, considered by some as the first Organic Farmer of Europe, and he understood the problems and the challenges from the start.
If we just keep in mind that before the full implementation of the CAP around 1970 there were already surpluses in most of the products covered by CMO’s (Common Market Organisations) and that the sugar regime works – it always did work – on the basis of production quotas – that is, political mechanisms trying to freeze rather than stimulate production – we will see how it makes no sense this picture of a CAP designed to feed the hungry Europeans. It never was!
As Michael Tracy explained, to understand the logic of the new-born CAP one has to bear in mind the old protectionist policies of the thirties.
The debate on the creation of the CAP was somehow different.
As Europe was still in deficit for most of the farming products in the late fifties early sixties, agricultural protectionism could be done not expensively if one would isolate the internal market from foreign competition, without an expensive British style deficiency payments.
European agricultural production reacted powerfully to the European protected market stimulation that the calculations of the beginning of the sixties were rapidly pulverised, and surpluses appeared in most of the products, and this came as a surprise. From this point of view, we might see a justification for the myth that the CAP was victim of its own success, but not really from the feeding the hunger perspective.
Sicco Mansholt structural reform of 1968 was basically his agenda already in 1958. If it was not implemented right from the start, it was because of the resistance of the predominating conservative field that did not want to hear about structural reform, and only grudgingly accepted that it should be a European policy but developed at the Member State level.
And this is the truly historical fact: the struggle between the structural reformers and the market interventionists, a history that it is fundamental to remember if we are to win the argument for a sustainable, humane and reasonable CAP reform.
The double oil shock of the seventies adjourned for some time the unsustainable market surpluses that were already showing up by the end of the sixties, but they came in full force by the eighties, the decade of the wine lakes, butter mountains and of the CAP insatiable financial appetite.

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