OPINION

The harsh truth

The new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to be implemented next year introduces a new method of dispersing subsidies which will dramatically influence the production sector and local communities. The originality of the new method lies in the dissociation of subsidies from the type and volume of production. The farmer is subsidized with a specific sum, calculated per «stremma» (10th of a hectare) of cultivated land; also, for the first three years of the policy’s implementation at least, there will not even be any inspection of the amount of product cultivated. However, from 2009 onward, the CAP will be reassessed and subsidies will be issued only conditionally. We know that the old system of issuing subsidies led to fraudulence, a downgrade of the product grown and the sector, and even blackmail – when blocking the country’s major highways with tractors became the farmers’ key negotiating tool for keeping subsidies. It is also clear that European subsidies were not used as a tool to reform crop cultivation and restructure production but were exploited to bring about temporary relief, to appease, even to mislead – for which both the government and the farmers themselves are to blame. No one publicly acknowledges, nor do they want to accept, the harsh truth – namely that our farming population, which currently accounts for between 14 and 17 percent of the country’s entire population needs to be reduced to 6 percent. Moreover, there has been insufficient debate about the extent to which existing cultivations can be restructured, about the need to adapt to new «consumer ethics» and about competition from cheaper goods being produced by other countries. Those who were concerned about their own prosperity and that of their sector have made the required changes; unfortunately, however, they were in the minority. For the majority, the subsidies simply discredited agriculture and led to the debasement of local communities. Now, the liberation of subsidies from production will probably ensure the withdrawal of tractors from national roads but it will probably also lead to the elimination of tobacco production, a reduction in the production of olive oil and the loss of several manufacturing sectors. Manufacturing industries and businesses linked to the processing and trade in agricultural produce, such as tobacco manufacturers and cotton gins, are already relocating from many parts of the country, with all the negative repercussions on the balance of payments and employment that this entails. However, this also constitutes a perfect opportunity for widespread change and restructuring…