We Must Reform the Common Agricultural Policy

Labour Party

Many of my constituents have been writing to me recently regarding the vote on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that took place last Wednesday in Strasbourg. What people have been saying is that they believe that CAP funds should support farming that protects and restores the natural environment and supports rural communities.  This is something that I entirely agree with, which is why my colleagues in the European Parliamentary Labour Party (EPLP) and I voted in line with those recommendations.

Making the whole CAP greener is one of top priorities of the EPLP. This is not only to ensure that during these difficult economic times taxpayers’ money is effectively spent, but crucially to create the environmental conditions to sustain long-term agricultural production through the protection of ecosystems.

CAP consists of two financial pillars – Pillar I, which provides income support to farmers in the form of direct payments and Pillar II, which drives competitiveness and sustainability in rural areas, with particularly focus on the environment.

We believe that Pillar II has proven its worth and remains the best mechanism for the delivery of environmental benefits through measures such as agri-environmental schemes, High Nature Value farming and organic farming. We therefore want to see a shift in funding from Pillar I to Pillar II, to ensure sufficient resources for these conservation measures. We also want these measures to be strengthened. We were pleased to see that the Parliament supported mandatory ring-fencing of Rural Development funds for agri-environment schemes and organic farming. It is our view that High Nature Value Farming must also be recognized for its value. We would therefore like to see a thematic sub-program established to ensure coherent support and protection for these extensive and environmentally-focused farming systems, common in Scotland and Wales and that is what we voted for.

Greener CAP also means in our opinion strengthened cross compliance rules. To receive direct payments under the Common Agricultural Policy farmers are required to respect certain rules. This requirement is known as cross-compliance and its main aim is to help enforce compliance with existing regulations concerning food safety, animal and plant health, the environment and animal welfare. Sadly however a large number of the requirements did not find a majority in the Agriculture Committee vote in January and were removed, significantly weakening the measure. Our Group in the Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats, tabled amendments to bring them back and we were happy to learn that most of them were supported and reintroduced by the Parliament.

We also welcome the Commission’s proposal to make direct payments conditional on the farmer making an actual effort for the environment (the so-called ‘greening’). We believe however that it does not go far enough. We are afraid that instead of a ‘green ambition’ we might see a ‘green wash’ of the CAP. The proposal needs to be therefore improved to make sure it delivers meaningful and significant environmental benefits across the whole EU, and that is what we have been pushing for. We also firmly believe every farmer in receipt of direct payments must be obliged to apply the greening measures. Protection of biodiversity should not be an option that farmers can choose or prefer to ignore when receiving taxpayers’ money. We therefore co-signed and voted for amendments calling for a compulsory and more ambitious ‘greening’.

I share the concern of many of my constituents over double funding (i.e. paying farmers twice for the same practice). I therefore voted against it, as it goes against basic rules of sound financial management and an efficient use of taxpayers’ money. I am pleased to say that this policy was rejected by the Parliament.

The CAP reform process has not finished yet. The EPLP will continue calling for an ambitious green reform of the CAP. Ambitious CAP reform is the EPLP’s priority in order to deliver good value for farmers, taxpayers, consumers and the environment. Future expenditure must be well targeted, delivering measurable outputs that offer real value for money and societal benefits that the market place cannot provide.

Addressing Fulbright Scholars

Labour Party

I was delighted to have the opportunity to address the American academics and scholars of the US-UK Fulbright Commission at the House of Commons. I followed Liam Byrne MP who gave a strong defence of Labour’s economic record.

Some parts of my work in the European Parliament can be difficult to explain. As a London representative with very few farms in my constituency, it is even harder to explain why 40% of the Budget still goes on agriculture. The Common Agricultural Policy still requires reform, and a reduction of the amount of money that is spent on it.

I talked about matters that regular readers of this blog will be familiar with women, culture and also how the European Parliament relates to the European Commission and the Council of Ministers. Somewhat different to the American system the audience were familiar with.

I was followed by Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon. Caroline commented about how Mayor of London Boris Johnson was inattentive at times in Mayor’s Question Time, noting that at over 2 hours long this gave an opportunity for a detailed examination of the work of the Mayor. She detailed the work of her colleagues on transport and how this had helped keep buses going through the recent bad weather.

The group were due to undertake a study visit to Cornwall, so I asked them to look out for Blue Flag beaches to observe an example of European environmental legislation in action. To provide an introduction Conservative Cornish MP for St Austell and Newquay Stephen Gilbert came to address the meeting. He talked about the weather, explaining how important this was to the British people as a conversational topic. He got the groups attention by revealing he had dated a Fulbright scholar.

We received a challenging set of questions about tiers of government, how coalition partners worked at different levels of government and the success of the congestion charge and how this could be applied to American cities.

My thanks to Penny Egan and her team, for all their work in putting the event together.