Künast challenges dyed-in-the-wool farming policies

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Series Details Vol.7, No.43, 22.11.01, p14
Publication Date 22/11/2001
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Date: 22/11/01

By David Cronin

Agriculture ministers throughout Europe generally tend to have two things in common: their sex (male) and their strong connections with major farm lobbies. Last January, though, the mould was broken when Germany's revamped agriculture department was taken over by a woman with spiky hair.

Green Party stalwart Renate Künast lacks a background in farming but has firm views about how her country's land should be managed. Within the next decade she wants 20 of German farms to be organic; almost a ten-fold increase on today's level.

Until a few years ago it would have been unthinkable that a minister in the EU's most populous state could win government backing for such a bold target. Yet the discovery that mad cow disease had hit Germany changed everything. As Künast herself remarked: "The BSE scandal marks the end of agricultural policy of the old style."

Crucially, she has had considerable success in rallying counterparts from the Union's two other most powerful states to her cause. The UK's Margaret Beckett, one of the few other females holding the farm ministry in Europe, declared in July that she wanted the EU's common agricultural policy (CAP) to be overhauled so that more ecologically sound production is encouraged. "If the Berlin Wall can fall down, then CAP can be reformed," she said.

That same month France's Jean Glavany signed a joint paper with Künast. It urged that a pact signed by Union leaders at the 1999 Berlin summit, allowing states to voluntarily direct a proportion of farm subsidies to "rural development" such as environmental protection projects, should be alteredto make such financing compulsory.

However, one key figure who is not quite striking a harmonious note with the reform advocates is

Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler. The Austrian has insisted that no changes to the CAP, which accounts for over half the EU's € 90-billion annual spending, can be entertained until after the budget review due in 2006.

Nevertheless, he has relented to pressure to sacrifice one of the CAP's sacred cows in the past week. During the World Trade Organisation talks at Doha, Qatar, the EU delegation agreed that discussions could take place on phasing out export subsidies for farmers, provided there was no fait accompli that they would eventually be scrapped.

With a deal reached on that key aspect of CAP reform, more far-reaching measures now seem inevitable.

Article forms part of a special report on food safety and agriculture.

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