Peter WorthDecember 1, 202213:46

    No new statue – if only a copy of the one in the Blue City in Groningen – was erected on Rue de la Loi in Brussels. Mister Europe Sicco Mansholt revealed. There was also no reception of royals and presidents, let alone an exceptional folk festival of grateful farmers.

    The diamond jubilee of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is too controversial and too complex for that. It was just enough to accommodate a small conference, because in Brussels meetings are the greatest asset.

    There is indeed reason to reflect on sixty years of the Common Agricultural Policy. Agriculture is about the foundation of the community. It is by far the most nightly meeting hours spent on it. And agriculture has been by far the largest consumer of the budget since its inception, although it accounts for only 1.3% of the current European Union’s GDP.

    2 trillion euros

    No Brussels official can answer the question of how much money has been spent on it in total during those sixty years. But it will soon be 2 trillion euros. In the 1970s and 1980s, 70 percent of the European budget was spent on agricultural support. Now it is 40 percent.

    The Common Agricultural Policy was established in 1962, five years after the founding of the EEC. The then French president De Gaulle wanted to open his borders to German industrial goods, on the condition that Chancellor Adenauer agreed to European aid for farmers, of whom France had so many.

    Numerous idealistic bells and whistles were added to the agreement by the six founders of the community, such as increased productivity, food security, fair prices for farmers and reasonable prices for consumers. Guaranteed prices for agricultural products were set for this purpose. If market prices fell below the guaranteed prices, Brussels intervened and bought everything up.

    Sky high

    At the same time, sky-high import tariffs were imposed on products from outside the EEC, because guaranteed prices were not intended to be undermined by efficient competitors. Sicco Mansholt, Commissioner of Agriculture from 1958 to 1972, also wanted European agriculture to improve its efficiency. Half of the farmers should do something else before 1980. Five million hectares of agricultural land would have to disappear.

    In the 1970s and 1980s, things got out of hand. Farmers could produce whatever they wanted, regardless of demand. Butter mountains and wine lakes were created that were sold on the world market at dumping prices. The 20 percent largest companies received 80 percent of the subsidies.

    It was not until 1992, with the reform plan of the Irish Agriculture Commissioner Ray MacSharry, that overproduction was limited by means of quota schemes. And instead of production support, farmers received income support. After the turn of the century, development and protection of the countryside became a priority. Export subsidies and import tariffs were phased out. Income support was linked to food safety, animal welfare and environmental protection.

    Another 400 billion euros is now available for agriculture for the period 2023-2027. Perhaps the Brussels statue for Mansholt will be built after all. At the 100th anniversary in 2062. With a folk festival for grateful farmers.