During the Agriculture Council, traditional proponents and opponents of the EU's agricultural policy sought to harden their arguments by emphasising the need to address rocketing commodity prices and food scarcity.
On the one hand, countries led by France stressed the need to preserve farm subsidies in order to sustain and even boost agricultural output at a time when demand from emerging economies such as China and India is constantly on the rise and when harvests have become ever more uncertain due to extreme weather conditions caused by global warming.
On the other, countries like the UK and Denmark insisted that such policies – originally intended to guarantee minimum price and income levels for European farmers – are outdated in the current context and are pushing up prices to levels that are dangerously high for the world's poorest countries. They are calling for a more market-oriented policy. This, they argue, would also allow large portions of the farm budget to be reallocated towards areas where it is much-needed like research and energy.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel is set to unveil her proposals for the so-called CAP 'Health Check' today (20 May). Certain short-term measures have already been introduced to allay the hike in food prices across Europe, including increasing the volume of available arable land by abolishing mandatory set-aside, increasing milk production quotas for 2008, reducing buffer stocks and export refunds and suspending import duties on almost all cereals.
But the proposals are set to go further. Among the options under consideration are the permanent abolition of the set-aside requirement, a gradual phase-out of milk quotas by 2015, adjustments to market price aid in the cereal sector and a transition from energy crop subsidies to more effective solutions to bolster the bio-energy sector which do not adversely impact upon the production of foodstuffs and feed.