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Debate: European Common Agricultural Policy

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Should the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy be scrapped in favour of free trade?

Background and context

The Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, is a complex system of subsidies paid by the EU to farmers. Member states have to contribute to a central pool, which the EU then divides, as it sees fit. Some of these subsidies are actually paid to farmers to stop them farming their land, in order to keep the amount of food on the market low and therefore maintain a good price for food. The main proponents of scrapping the CAP have been the more economically liberal countries, such as the UK, whereas the more socialist countries have been its biggest supporters. In this debate the proposition advocates a complete scrapping of the CAP. The fundamental proposition theme is that the introduction of a free market to European agriculture can only be good for the consumer. The opposition advocates the use of interventionist policies. So this debate is an instance of the classic clash between ‘laissez-faire’ and interventionist ideologies.

Contents

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Is the CAP good for consumers?

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Yes

  • The CAP is an outrage for consumers! Consumers pay money to government in taxes. The government pays this money to the EU, which in turn uses this money to keep prices high. Scrapping the CAP would lower prices and be much better for consumers. It is the scrapping of the CAP which will maximise consumer choice, allowing consumers a free choice between local or international, ‘traditional’ or ‘standardised’ agricultural products. If there is no demand for local produce then it is a complete waste of money to keep local agriculture going artificially, producing unwanted goods at tax-payers’ expense.




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No

  • The CAP preserves a European model of agriculture. As elaborated in point 5 below it permits European countries to continue with their own traditional forms of farming and prevents their take-over by multi-nationals. This preserves consumer choice because they can still purchase local products rather than being forced to buy standardised multi-national products. It is right to give indigenous and traditional farmers and their methods a helping hand to protect our local economies, traditions, communities, and livelihoods.
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Is the CAP fair?

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Yes

  • The CAP is also unfair for many states in the EU. Those states with the most successful economies, such as the UK and Germany, tend also to have the most sophisticated agricultural sectors. Consequently, although they contribute a large amount to the CAP, they receive comparatively little. The CAP punishes countries with efficient agricultural sectors and supports inefficient ones.




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No

  • It is necessary for the EU to support its least efficient members. Not only is this a fundamental tenet of the EU, but if the UK and Germany stopped supporting the poorer states, their agricultural sectors would be swallowed up by multinationals. It would only be a matter of time then before the UK and Germany followed.
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Does the CAP improve the quality of the food supply?

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Yes

  • Since the amount of food on the market is kept small, and the market is closely controlled, farmers are able, under the CAP, to produce bad quality food without penalty. The removal of the CAP, and the subsequent development of a free market and enhanced consumer choice, would also improve the quality of food. There would be no danger of farmers, in the absence of the CAP, producing excess food they couldn’t sell for lack of demand.




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No

  • The CAP reduces the amount of food on the market to prevent wastage. There is already a mountain of unwanted butter and lakes of unsold wine. If all the economies of Europe produced unhindered these stockpiles would simply grow.
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Can the CAP cope with the EU expansion?

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Yes

  • The EU is set to expand. The countries that wish to join the EU all have large inefficient agricultural sectors. To subsidise them through CAP could cripple the EU financially.




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No

  • The CAP may have to be altered slightly to accommodate new members, it does not have to be scrapped entirely.
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Is deregulation a good thing?

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Yes

  • The advantages of deregulation have been demonstrated in Australia and the Far East where food prices have dropped and the quality has risen.




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No

  • The EU’s main rival is not Australia or the Far East but the US. The US government gives farmers heavy subsidies and removing the CAP would give the US a huge, unfair advantage against which the EU could not compete. US multinationals would buy out European Agriculture.
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Should the EU try to reduce unemployment among farmers?

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Yes

  • Unemployment among farmers is an acceptable price to pay. Consumers form a far larger proportion of the EU than farmers and their needs must come first.




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No

  • This would cause enormous unemployment among farmers. The EU has a duty to these farmers to keep them in work.
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Does the CAP help the environment?

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Yes

  • The CAP causes environmental problems, such as the dumping of fruit and vegetables which rot leading to disease and pollution of waterways.




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No

  • In addition to unemployment the domination of multinational agriculture would lead to much greater environmental damage than is caused by the CAP. The European model of agriculture is much more environmentally sound with its many fields and hedgerows. All this would be scrapped if the multinationals moved in as huge areas of landscape were flattened to make way for giant fields (as happens in North America already).
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Overall, is the CAP a good thing?

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Yes

  • The money spent on CAP does active harm. The ending of the CAP would release it. It could be used far more constructively elsewhere.




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No

  • For the reasons explained above, the CAP is a worthwhile way to spend EU money.

See also

External links and resources

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