Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Mountains of Butter, Lakes of Milk, and the Weird World of EU Agriculture Policy

By Adalric Tuten

What is weirder than agricultural policies? EU agricultural policies, according to Dr. David Bullock, Professor of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

On September 22, the European Union Center at UIUC invited Dr. Bullock to give a talk on the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The talk was an engaging tour through the policy history of the CAP that, indeed, had audience members confirming Bullock’s conclusion about the eccentricities of EU agricultural policies.

Bullock, an expert on international agricultural economics, explained that the EU’s dramatic agricultural policies are important to understand, since they help explain a wide range of social, economic, and political aspects of the EU. For example, 40% of the EU budget goes into agriculture, with 27% of that going directly to EU farmers. This means about 48 billion Euros goes to farmers. Prior to CAP reforms, especially since 2007 when the EU decoupled price from production quantity, the numbers were even higher, with 60% of the EU budget going toward agriculture. Consequently, these heavy subsidies are a source of heated conflict, especially when the EU threatens to reduce them. The outcome, as Bullock noted, can be mayhem, with angry farmers fearing lost wages pouring milk onto city streets, releasing chickens into the urban wild, or setting tractors on fire, blocking traffic for hours.

But as Bullock also emphasized, CAP has EU integration embedded in its policy core. Subsequently, CAP has improved farming conditions for many EU countries. Today, when we think of EU nations such as France, Denmark, The Netherlands, Poland, or Italy, we immediately think of world-class agricultural products, from fine wine to cheese to cured hams to olives. We even think of the EU’s lead in rural, eco-tourism, with its signature groomed landscapes and quaint and cozy accommodations.

Yet, problems generated by CAP persist and continue to vex EU policymakers. One such problem is the industrial overhaul of farms, leading to loss of farming jobs and heavy migration of unemployed farmers to cities or other EU countries to find work, as happened in Romania.

To conclude, it is these ups and downs created by CAP that Bullock regards as vital for understanding today’s EU. To learn more about Dr. David Bullock’s insights into CAP, you can watch the subtitled video below.


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