A thorough reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is necessary to allow the EU to respond more effectively to rising food prices and internal pressures, according to Ivo Hlavac, the Czech state secretary in charge of agriculture, who spoke to EURACTIV France in an interview.
“We believe a health check is necessary to make the CAP more liberalised, more open and more flexible,” as well as address WTO concerns, Hlavac said. It has to be finalised “by the end of this year” and “we will support the French Presidency in this ambition,” he added.
In May, the Commission announced plans to reform the CAP – the so-called ‘Health Check’ – by linking fewer payments to production, allocating more funding to rural development and scrapping a requirement to keep a certain percentage of land out of production (EURACTIV 21/05/08).
The state secretary says there are “at least two good reasons to support” the EU executive’s proposal, namely its decoupled aid scheme, which “makes the CAP more flexible,” and its suppression of milk quotas by 2015. Hailing the Commission’s “progressive approach,” he says “we could produce much more milk but we are blocked by quotas and the threat of penalties”.
But Hlavac opposes the Commission’s plan to impose a cap on the amount of subsidies farms can receive once they exceed a certain size. For historical reasons, this would be unfair on the Czech Republic, where the average size of a farm, 150 hectares, is over double that of the EU as a whole, he explains. “During communism, we went through the process of collectivisation of rural areas” like most new member states, he says – producing many large farms.
Under his country’s EU presidency, “the [CAP] debate should not be about figures” but about “structural expectations,” Hlavac believes, calling for funding to be shifted from direct payments to farmers to rural development. While France is “more conservative” and “wants to maintain the budget as it is,” a compromise is necessary that gives the EU “the opportunity to produce European food” and “be competitive not only in the internal market but on the global stage,” he adds.
Meanwhile, the Czech Republic does not think the EU’s mandatory targets of providing 10% of its fuel consumption from biofuels and 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 are “reasonable policies,” Hlavac said.
On biofuels, “the European debate is moving between two extremes”. Once seen as “a way to save agriculture and face environmental challenges,” they are now being treated with caution, Hlavac says, calling for middle ground to be found. On energy, “renewables work locally” but do not provide global or environmental solutions, he says, speaking out in favour of nuclear energy.
Meanwhile, the Czech court is set to rule on whether or not the Lisbon Treaty complies with is constitution in September or October (EURACTIV 30/06/08, 20/06/08). Seeking to allay fears that this will prevent his country from ratifying the text, Hlavac said “it is only a matter of formal procedure” similar to that undertaken by Germany.
Nevertheless, when asked to predict what the result will be, he replied: “I cannot say because I am not a Constitutional judge.”