Many reform promoters are carefully holding back: “We know that the CAP needs thorough restructuring, but farmers will never accept it, and few politicians are ready to support such radical changes. We should better adopt a middle-of-the-road strategy.” This restraint is mistaken.
Stakeholders should boldly speak out for fundamental CAP reform. Here is why:
Harnessing the power of coherence
Consider some basic principles: that the welfare of all humans has equal weight and that we should also care about foreigners and future generations, that the European Union should act only where it creates added value beyond national and local action, and that polluters should pay. If one agrees on such simple principles, and applies them to agriculture in line with the best scientific knowledge, this inevitably leads to calls for groundbreaking CAP reform. Such a coherent, principled message is appealing in public. Emphasising the best arguments also avoids much internal disagreement over which concessions to make in the name of political correctness and acceptability.
Setting the right reference points
One never gets what one asks for. At least not in negotiations. Demands for moderate reform will receive a weak reform as reward. Every stakeholder who makes a bold reform proposal helps to establish more ambitious points of reference. Other stakeholders are then more likely to follow in a direction that starts looking intuitive and publicly defensible. Even those stakeholders that prefer to stick to the safety of the middle ground will be able to embrace more reform-oriented positions. No doubt, it will be necessary to strike a compromise – but this should be reserved for the final moments of the negotiations.
Creating interest and mobilizing support
Agriculture is a fraction of the economy, and the CAP is hardly an exciting newcomer in EU politics. Experience tells us that CAP reform is a slow process and that few people understand what has changed. So why should the media bother to report, and why should new stakeholders get involved? Reform promoters have to choose: either they announce that certain aspects of the CAP should be improved and try to convince the farm lobby, or they state that the CAP can and should be revolutionized – thus creating the momentum to realize change.