The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has fed the fiercest debates at the heart of the european political system for half a century. The keystone of European integration, the policy is designed to protect Union farmers from the dangers of over-production rendered possible by modern farming techniques, as well as from the ravages of globalisation and its inherent unmerciful competition logic. For several years, debates at the centres of decision-making have acquired another dimension, between irreconcilable opposition and despairing incomprehension. The context of the problem has indeed become much more complex.
For the last twenty years globalisation dominated by neo-liberal logic has imposed exchange liberalisation on developing countries, i.e. the immediate suppression of customs charges on imports. Not only does this measure profit western companies, mostly multinational farm producers whose power directly threatens local farmers. It also reflects an unfailing belief, become ideology, in the free market and the corresponding distrust of State intervention. for twenty years this has been the creed of international institutions. It is perceived as that of the west, of which the EU is a pillar. At the centre of the GATT rounds, at the centre of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), this liberalisation constitutes a given condition for all international aid to emerging economies. But developing countries, although not powerful, have been quick to denounce the hypocrisy of rich countries who wish to gain access to new markets whilst protecting - even State subsidising their own. This is the case in the US, and of course in Europe where the CAP is the most flagrant example. The condemnation of these policies, ignored at first because it came from the weak, had to be taken into account when it reached the heart of developed societies through the gigantic demonstrations held against globalisation which started in Seattle in 1999.
Asking of the poor what the rich are incapable of.
For the first time the discussions have shifted: to Doha and Qatar where the latest WTO talks were held in November 2001. Warned by the new dissident movements, enlightened by the repeated failure of international action in Russia and Asia, the western dominated international institutions accepted alongside the further opening up of markets the correction of past imbalances. Many observers judged the discussions to be more open: poor countries could debate with rich. It was not only concessions, but at least they were heard. They asked, coherently, the end of State subsidies to western agriculture that sap their export industries and thus their development. The round was after all baptised the 'development round'. At the beginning of 2001, on 26 February, the EU had appeared to set the example with its "Everything But Arms" initiative which established a trade agreement between the Union and the 49 least developed countries, abolishing all customs duties and quotas on their exports to Europe, except on arms. This agreement, if it did foretell a new wave of respect for poor countries by apparently acting with honest bilateral logic, also included a condition. The least developed countries promised a free exchange system that would in the near future flood their emerging markets with European services.
Thus we understand that the future of the CAP and the image that the average citizen has of globalisation are linked. In reality, the CAP depends on it. If neo-liberal economists were coherent, they would advocate the end of subsidies to European agriculture. But they protect them, they are westerners, and they know that such an action would be bad for our economies and our social peace. So they ask of the poor wha the rich are incapable of.
The CAP and Enlargement: a necessary ouverture
The problem of the enlargement to the east of the Union gives this complex problem another dimension. The response of the European institutions to the problem has been to envisage the extension of aid to farmers to the new members. If this does seem a step towards closer integration, it does not solve the difficulties posed: the percentage of the Community budget devoted to CAP payments will swell to disaster point, and all to achieve unstable and questionable results.
So, what must be done? First of all, the problem must be voiced and talked over - and most are uneasy or unable to do so. We can see that the solution to the CAP problem will be the consequence of a democratic choice that takes into account the vision of globalisation that citizens want. A Europe with more democratic decision-making is the condition. But is must be recalled that the Treaty of Nice did not move the CAP to the field of co-decision between the European Parliament and and the Council of Ministers. The CAP is therefore the product of a constrained, closed Council. Let us now recall the three principal strategies which are being discussed for the future of the policy. The first is the Commission's, the 'status quo', which envisages a slow reduction in aid over the long term. Union are of course ferociously opposed to this - so the strategy does not solve much. The second is that of the numerous countries that form the Cairns Group (15 net exporter countries with no subsidy systems including Australia, New Zealand and Canada). This is called 'eco-globalisation', a liberal strategy which aims to eliminate protectionism in order to align prices at the global level (understood as "real value"), as well as to establish individual aid. The third, named 'farmer and citizen' is the idea of the European Farmers' Confederation. This recommends the agricultural sovereignty of States, and so protection from imports. This is certainly the closest to the interests of poor countries, but its acceptance in Europe would only come from a revolution in current thought - a pipe dream.
The actual direction of strategy, carried out by what can only be described as bureaucratised farmers, is a misleading and opportunist wooing of poor countries: a suicidal strategy on adapting to enlargement which must be denounced and revised. The necessity of globalisation is only the necessity of building a global society where the rules are solidarity and conscious citizenship. The societies of poor and rich countries can discuss this. They should stop opposing it.