Closed shop

Those who thought the European Parliament would open the Common Agricultural Policy to the concerns and interests of a broader public in Europe and initiate a more democratic decision-making process regarding how the bulk of Europe’s budget should be spent, might change their mind after seeing the list of “sectoral organisations and NGOs” deemed worthy of being heard at the joint conference of the Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and the Polish Council presidency.

The conference will begin with speeches from the presidents of the conventional farmers’ union COPA, its sister organisation of farm cooperatives COGECA and its youth organisation CEJA. This will be followed by a two hour “open debate”, comprising 24 speakers, each with a 4 minute slot. Among these, 11 of them (again) are from COPA/COJECA /CEJA and 3 are Members of Parliament. This leaves 10 places for “other organizations.” Here we have the food and drink and feed industry, the landowners’ association, a politician from the Polish minister’s farmers’ party (representing the vegetable industry), an advisor from the Dutch farmers’ union and a representative from the Austrian Chamber of Agriculture. Organic farmers, the farm workers’ union, family farmers (Via Campesina) and Birdlife International also get a slot. But nothing for consumers, no health, no international or rural development and no environment organisation at large!

Both the chair of the Agricultural Committee, agri-businessman and former Italian Agricultural Minister, Paolo de Castro and Minister Marek Sawicki are outspoken opponents of the greening and capping components put forward by Commissioner Dacian Ciolos. Mr de Castro pronounces his business as usual approach carefully, demanding more “national flexibility” and emphasising the need to increase production in times of hunger and growing energy demand. Whilst Mr Sawicki denounced the Commission’s greening proposals as “new slavery for famers” at the first Council debate.

The phalanx of farm lobbyists and industries invited by de Castro and Sawicki will certainly echo their agri-business approach, as will the four rapporteurs of the Agricultural Committee, who have been shared between the two major parties: EPP and Socialists. Within these parties some MEPs are ready to form a highly conservative coalition against any attempt to question the rationale and the goal of the Union’s agricultural policy or to open it up to environmental, global justice, consumer and health aspects – all heavily affected by the agricultural market organisation and subsidy system of the EU.

Those Members of the European Parliament who do not agree with this approach must now open up their minds to broader societal demands: Certainly a large majority of European citizens wants to see more healthy food, support family farms rather than agro-industries and make sure their taxes are used to help the EU’s farmers and consumers to jointly adapt to a concept of food production that saves the planet and its resources and maybe even enhances our culture of food, landscapes and rural diversity. It is time these voices are heard and taken seriously in the debate, both inside and outside the Parliament.

Background info

On 23 November, in cooperation with the AGRI Committee, the Polish Presidency of the EU is organising a conference with stakeholders and NGOs on “legislative proposals concerning the future common agricultural policy”.  Invited organisations include COPA-COGECA and CEJA. Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş will also participate.

The meeting is scheduled at 15.00 from 18.30 in the European Parliament.

Find the conference programme here