EUROPE’S Common Agricultural Policy is complicated enough, without politicians who seem to perform verbal somersaults whenever they mention it.
Take these recent comments by United Kingdom Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman:
“Now is the time to make very significant progress towards reducing our reliance on direct payments – it’s certainly something the farmers I know want to see happen. Rising global demand for food and rising food prices make it possible to reduce subsidies and plan for their abolition.”
Oxford Farming Conference,
5 January 2011
Little more than a month later, Mrs Spelman said:
“I want to nail just a few of the myths about what our position on the CAP really is. We say “No” to a dogmatic scrapping of subsidies tomorrow. But we say “Yes” to genuine and enduring reform.”
15 February 2011
Then last week, Mrs Spelman told MPs:
“Our farmers need those direct payments at the moment, although I can envisage a time when, given rising food prices, they may not be necessary. The new, more realistic position means that we are a player at the negotiating table, part of an important alliance of member states that want CAP reform so that we can confront the serious challenges presented by the need for food security and by climate change.”
Hansard, Column 469,
17 March 2011
While Mrs Spelman was saying this, junior Defra minister Lord Henley was representing the UK at the EU Agriculture Council in Brussels.
At the meeting, the UK was among seven member states to vote against an agriculture council paper supporting the retention of direct subsidies to farmers.
The other member states to vote against were Sweden, Denmark, Malta, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Hardly a bunch of EU heavy-hitters. Is this the important alliance Mrs Spelman was talking about?
And what about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? Do they support this England-led UK stance?