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17.03.2010 General posts

Rename the CAP!

Names matter, and Common Agricultural Policy is the wrong name for a policy promoting European public goods related to land use.

What would be a fitting name?

The guiding theme of the new policy should be the promotion of European public goods related to land use, with a particular emphasis upon fighting climate change, preserving biodiversity and improving water quality. In attaining these objectives, non-agricultural areas – forests in the first instance – are just as deserving of subsidies as agricultural land.

‘Food’ should not be added to the title, as food-related objectives generally do not require subsidies and are handled mostly by the Directorate General for Health and Consumers. Similarly, including ‘rural’ in the title is not advisable, as rural development policies should either be transferred to the Directorate General for Regional Policy or be left to the member states. Both ‘food’ and ‘rural’ would be policy claims that distract from the core mission of delivering European public goods.

A more suitable name, then, would be The Sustainable Land-Use Policy. It includes all forms of land use – not just agricultural – and the commitment to sustainability centers the policy on environmental protection, while also covering other public goods, such as animal welfare.

Why is renaming the CAP worth the effort?

A marker of change: A debate about a new name for the CAP will draw public attention to the reform process and signal that a fundamental policy shift is at stake. This will help to engage stakeholders other than farmers and land owners, who are the main current beneficiaries.

A sense of priority: The search for a new name will stimulate the discussion about appropriate objectives for the future policy. And it will sharpen the sense of prioritization: laundry-list names don’t catch, one needs to opt one way or another.

A sound benchmark: Explicitly dedicating the policy to sustainable land use will strengthen a rational policy-making approach which judges instruments by their contribution to clearly defined objectives. This will facilitate the removal of long-standing instruments that do not promote public goods (export subsidies, Single Farm Payments, support for unsustainable farm modernization, etc).

No more entitlements: ‘Agricultural policy’ creates expectations among farmers, who resist the use of ‘their’ money for environmental and especially forestry purposes. Ministries for agriculture often share this view. A new name will thus function as an important symbol for the departure from the paradigm of farmers’ quasi-inherited rights to public money.

Strengthening non-farm stakeholders: Dropping ‘agricultural’ and adding ‘environmental’ or ‘sustainable’ to the name of the policy will further legitimize non-farm stakeholders – notably environmental NGOs and ministries. These could then no longer be brushed aside as meddling in farmers’ affairs, but would be rightful constituents in the policy-making process.

Benefits down the road: These advantages will count not only in the reform of the post-2013 CAP. They will also influence manifold future decisions in Brussels, in the capitals, and on the local level when it comes to fine-tuning and implementing the revised policy.