A French Stitch Up

It looks like we finally know who will be the new EU Agriculture Commissioner. Subject to approval by the European parliament, Dacian Ciolos, a former Romanian Agriculture Minister, will take the reigns and steer the future of West Country farmers for the next five years.We should not rejoice at his appointment. Romania as a country is hardly the best one to be trusted with such a portfolio only two years after their entry into the EU. Agriculture accounts for nearly 40% of Romania's GDP and they are still excluded from receiving most of the money available to them under the Common Agricultural policy because of continuing concerns about corruption. Mr Ciolos himself is a very able man, he has experience in Agriculture, most of it gained through work experience on a French farm and he was for a couple of years, Romania's agriculture minister. I have met him on several occasions and he is personable and knowledgeable about agriculture. However, when it was first suggested that Romania may get this portfolio it was roundly dismissed by everyone as pie in the sky wishful thinking. But then our own Gordon Brown got into the act. He decided, against the advice of everyone who knows anything about European politics, to not bother bidding for any of the powerful portfolios in the European Commission. The portfolios which decide which new European laws come our way. Instead, he decided to grab the ceremonial but largely useless High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and give it to the unelected Baroness Ashton. At this point the French could hardly believe their luck, Gordon Brown had opened the door for them to take the Internal Market portfolio and with Britain's support, they made Michel Barnier the Commissioner for Internal market. I know Mr Barnier well from his time as the French agriculture Minister and I can assure you that is most definitely a French protectionist. He is also an astute and canny politician and is certainly not a man to be underestimated. I imagine he is already refining his plans to stifle any future growth of the City of London, which he now effectively controls. Moreover, Gordon Brown also left the door wide open for Nicholas Sarkozy to slip Mr Ciolos into the Agriculture portfolio. Quite apart from the concerns over Romania, Mr Ciolos is an arch Francophile. He has a French wife, has spent time working on French farms and has been described by Mr Sarkozy as \\France's second Commissioner.\\ This means that the French have very cleverly managed to stitch up not only all future reform of financial markets but they have also managed to stitch up CAP reform, two years before the discussions actually start on what the CAP will look like post 2013. Gordon Brown has quite literally given the keys to the city and to our farms away and there is no starker example of how not to negotiate in Brussels. Even worse, the French Agriculture Minister, Bruno Le Mairie, has invited the Agriculture Ministers from 22 EU countries to Paris to discuss how to defend the CAP and to ensure that taxpayer's money continues to be spent propping up French farms. Britain, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Malta, the countries who want to reform the CAP were not given an invitation. So with a Francophile commissioner in place and with a majority of Agriculture Ministers on their side, the French have sewn up CAP reform two years before it is ever officially discussed. Ahead of the last CAP reform British Ministers didn't turn up to meetings to discuss reform, this time round they are not even getting invited. It is therefore safe to assume that the change of Agriculture Commissioner means more of the same with regards to agriculture. There is unlikely to be a huge reform of the CAP in 2011, even if the EU decides it wants to spend less money on agriculture and more on new global challenges such as energy security, the environment, competing in a global economy or developing the rest of the world. It also means that it is far less likely that we can achieve a level playing field for West Country farmers with their continental counterparts. Our farmers will continue to receive less money in the single farm payment and our regions will receive less in rural development funding than those in most other European countries. It also means that our taxpayers will have to endure yet more of their hard earned money going to prop up uncompetitive farms in France, Germany and Austria. Four years ago, this government gave away seven billion pounds of the UK rebate in exchange for CAP reform and since then we have had virtually no reform. If anything reform has stalled and is gradually being rolled backwards. Clear stoicism from Paris, a French controlled agriculture commissioner and the new powers MEPs in the agriculture committee enjoy due to the Lisbon Treaty all make sorry reading for those who want to see the CAP modernised so that it offers better value for taxpayers and farmers alike. France has two powerful commissioners, Britain has none. But it is not all bad news, we have Baroness Ashton chairing meetings of EU foreign Ministers, so it was obviously a good deal for Britain! Yet despite all the clever French manoeuvres there is still an EU budget to be agreed and as Britain and Germany pay in most of the money that the French spend on the CAP, a future British government will need to be very tough when the budget negotiations start. If David Cameron can restrict the budget, the French will not have it all their own way and we may get some meaningful CAP reform after all.