Farmers and the EU

If the European Commission’s recent positive recommendation on Cyprus’s membership turned the spotlight on the attractive side of enlargement, the EU summit yesterday in Brussels was a reminder of one of its thornier aspects: the serious repercussions on the Greek countryside as a by-product of the inevitable revision of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The problem has been known for a long time. The accession of 10 new states to the European Union in 2004 raises the issue of redistribution of Community funds – particularly in the area of the CAP, which absorbs half of the EU budget. Southern Mediterranean countries, which have absorbed the lion’s share of these funds until now, will have to share this money with the newcomers from Eastern Europe, especially Poland, a country with a large and vulnerable agricultural sector. In this light, the EU’s main contributors – Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden – are pressing for a radical revision of the CAP against opposition from Mediterranean countries spearheaded by France. Prime Minister Costas Simitis had every reason to be relieved over the deal between French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Brussels, which ensured the continuation of agricultural subsidies until 2006. This will allow the ruling Socialists to run for the 2004 parliamentary elections without an additional strain that could fan the discontent of the rural population as reflected in the recent municipal and regional elections. But we should nourish no illusions. The Brussels compromise merely offers a final time extension for a radical modernization of our rural economy. The post-2006 period will, no doubt, see a radical change in the system of subsidies. Europe’s most powerful states are not willing to go on funding uncompetitive products that remain on the shelves, and see their money, which is supposedly spent on the modernization of farming, squandered on consumer goods. They would rather see those funds invested in the development of new, environment-friendly forms of farming that are closer to meeting the needs and the concerns of European consumers. In short, Greece has four years to achieve what it has failed to accomplish in two decades of EU membership, knowing that this will be its final chance. Responsibility lies with the current government, which has to prove that it would rather work for the common good than try to be a voter-pleaser.