Incoming farm commissioner pledges to defend CAP subsidies

BRUSSELS – Incoming EU agriculture chief Mariann Fischer Boel pledged yesterday to defend Europe’s farming model, push for more policy reforms and follow in the footsteps of her predecessor, who held the job for 10 years. Europe has no alternative to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to govern the use of rural land and ensure quality of the countryside and environment, she told the European Parliament. «There is no alternative to the CAP if we want to meet these challenges. On its own, the market would not provide the desired public goods which the citizens expect,» Fischer Boel said. «We are therefore on the right track,» she added at her compulsory Parliament hearing, part of the EU’s process to confirm the appointment of the next EU executive. Fischer Boel, a former agriculture minister in Denmark, said she would present reform proposals in sectors such as sugar and adjustments elsewhere where necessary, without giving details. When the next European Commission takes office in November, Fischer Boel will step into the shoes of Austria’s Franz Fischler, current EU agriculture commissioner and a seasoned and tough negotiator who has several major reforms under his belt. Though he has his critics, Fischler’s 10 years as farm chief are widely seen as a success. Last year, he managed to overcome resistance from countries like France and Spain to reform the CAP by breaking the historic link between how much a farmer produces and how much subsidy he receives from EU coffers in Brussels. «There’s no reason why I should not continue the policy that the current commissioner has started,» Fischer Boel told members of the EU legislature. «I want…to pay tribute to him and to his energy and vision. It will be a difficult act to follow.» Cash for countryside Another priority would be to secure enough funding within the EU budget for the 2007-13 period to help finance projects aiming to preserve Europe’s countryside, Fischer Boel said, adding that she would fight for a generous allocation. «We can’t just have more policy for less money. We have to be extremely firm,» she said. The current Commission has proposed a rural development budget of 14.2 billion euros ($17.2 billion) by 2013, for an EU also including Romania and Bulgaria. «I cannot accept a depopulation of the European countryside. There has to be a place for (the) family-driven farm,» she said. «Rural development is the future.» EU member states still have to agree on funding levels for the next budget period, although the major part of farm spending – subsidies and market measures – has been given a ceiling. The CAP has its roots in Western Europe of the 1950s, when societies had been damaged by years of war and farming was crippled, leading to unreliable food supplies. At present, EU agriculture policy eats up close to half of the bloc’s annual budget of nearly 100 billion euros.