Debate on rebate

There’s an excellent post by Nosemonkey on The Sharpener on the subject of Britain’s EU rebate. I’m very glad of the existence of The Sharpener, with contributors from more than one political angle. It’s where the best posts of other blogs end up if they’ve been good and brushed their teeth before bedtime. And while I enjoy reading the blogs of the contributing authors, I’m soon going to run out of time to get through them all, which makes this Pick-n-Mix bag all the more valuable.

Back to the post. The nasal primate draws an amusing analogy between a member of a gentleman’s club and Club EU. And excellent and informative article though it is, it’s in the comments where the meat is. Putting the GDP and GDP per capita comparisons between Britain and France aside, one particular comment stood out: should the CAP be scrapped, Africa’s ability to compete more fairly with Europe would be improved.

It made me think about why the CAP exists at all. I think it sprang from an era when Europe had a strong need for self-reliance in food production. This has since been achieved, but probably at the cost of keeping African produce out of our markets. (Although you can find evidence to the contrary in any supermarket’s vegetable counter. Mange tout, sweetcorn and fine beans are some examples of veg that fly in from Zimbabwe, Kenya or Morocco. But that only proves that supermarkets are b*st*rds, both to the environment and local farmers…)

I really don’t know what to think about the CAP, its costs or benefits to EU member states are no longer apparent. On the one hand, a liberal lefty would argue that the money Britain puts into the common coffers is crucial for redistribution to more needy EU members, so stop being a money-grabbing doodah, Tony. On the other, the CAP is no longer necessary, we’re merely propping up farmers who have learned to play the game, and we should instead look into fair trade within the EU and with Africa.

On a more personal level, I’ve heard what it’s like for a small farmer to be out-competed by lower labour costs elsewhere. Raspberries from Romania are a hot topic in many Perthshire kitchens come late summer. Every now and again in recent years, a farmer with a side trade in raspberries (picked during the off peak season when ships and coos can look after themselves) finds that the bother of hiring short-term labourers to pick raspberries, box them in perfect condition in plastic cartons and store them in refrigerated units, is no longer worth it when the supermarkets won’t pay enough to cover costs. So these fields get turned into grazing land, or get “set aside” for EU rebates, or are sold at auction to developers with an eye for future planning permission from the Council to build yet more identikit “executive homes”.

What’s the point, you ask? Well, for many smallholders, every aspect of their farm has to succeed if they are to re-pay the bank. And if they’re out-competed, they have to find other avenues to survive, which usually results in land sales (changing the landscape of Britain, yadda ya) rather than diversification. The CAP has succeeded in improving European farming, but seemingly at the expense of British farmers. Food output in Britain has been declining for years, and while probably wasn’t truly self-sufficient before, it definitely isn’t now.

Back to that EU CAP thing. On the surface, if Britain doesn’t benefit from the CAP, shouldn’t it get its rebate, or be exempt from payments? If the rebate is scrapped, who loses out? There will be even less public money to spend on an already failing system. I’m curious (but don’t have the impetus to find out): what is the net input/output for every EU member state? For all I know, it could be a net drain on ALL members, with the bureaucrats benefiting with well-paid jobs and impressive CVs to move on to the private sector. (Someone tell me I’m wrong… I hate being so cynical.)

On a different level, if the CAP is scrapped entirely, what happens to the food producers we’ve come to rely on? Won’t those bloody supermarkets just get in more cheap produce from Africa and South America? On the one hand, good for the farmers there. But on the other, it’s not the needy farmers who get the trade, it’s the ones who can produce picture-perfect sprayed crops (tied in to suppliers of sprays and resistant seeds) who flourish. Also, it means more land is devoted to production of our luxury goods as opposed to essentials for local consumption.

Wee disclaimer: Title of my blog says it all. Akatsuki talks rot. But in writing this post, I have learned more about the crazy job-creation scheme that is the CAP and gained a healthier respect for those who stick their necks out with strong opinions, often based on a lot of background research of the facts. I can’t even get through my 200-page Very short introduction to the EU (I’ve been stuck on page 3 for a whole year now).

14 Jun ’05 update: Just before I go out for yet another typical British rainy BBQ, a couple of links to two idiot’s guides to EU spending by the Beeb:

The second link answers my question of the net in/out flow of dosh per country, and makes me wonder why Germany isn’t whining away like the French and British. While the first link has a chart of per capita givers and takers, which is probably a better comparison. So why doesn’t the Beeb use that in their front page article today instead of the raw figures? Ach, who knows… Elsewhere, Nosemonkey has put up a link to some serious figure analysis on his Europhobia blog, and makes me wonder if Lord Vetinari has jumped through the UU’s dimension portal and started ruling Luxembourg…

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