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19 November 2017

A good example of how Brits were mislead on the EU

Days ago I was embroiled in a closed mail-list discussion on Brexit regarding the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and wild life protection programmes. The subject was a reportage by a famed British euro-sceptic journalist, aired just days before the referendum:

I attempted to show my colleagues the dimension of the falsehoods in this reportage, but George Monbiot seems to be a holy cow of sorts in environmentalist circles, thus my argumentation was not welcome. Under the coat of a left-leaning environmentalist George Monbiot engages in unconstrained bashing the EU, sowing unwarranted mistrust and scepticism. This makes for a good example on how the British public has been mislead, that must be fully understood. Therefore I leave here my reasoning for future reference.

Subsidies to EU farmers are paid from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF) the main financial instrument implementing the CAP. Monbiot claims these subsidies to be directed at land owners, but there is a document published by the Commission entitled Eligibility for direct payments of the Common Agricultural Policy that provides concrete rules on whom may actually receive them:
In order to be eligible to receive direct payments, applicants have to be active farmers.
The subsidies are targeted at active farmers, those folk that not only work the land, but that have in farming their main source of income:
In the context of the latest CAP reform, the co-legislators indeed adopted the active farmer provision which aims at preventing individuals and companies from receiving support from the CAP when their business is not agricultural or is only marginally so.
There is no reference whatsoever to land owners in the document, that being a mere invention by Monbiot. But there is more, the UK is far more in control of these subsidies than Monbiot's words may lead to believe:
The key element of the active farmer provision is a negative list of businesses/activities, which includes airports, waterworks, real estate services, railway services and permanent sport and recreational grounds.
This is another important point to understand the extent of Monbiot's falsehoods. The EU defines a minimum set of economic activities that automatically exclude a farmer from these subsidies. For instance, if a farmer also manages a golf field, it is possibly unwise to pay her or him farming subsidies. Each member state is free to expand this list to guarantee that funds reach those farmers actually in need. If in the UK there are farmers receiving funds they should not, it is entirely to the UK government to make amends.

Beyond these limiting aspects, farmers must also make proof the parcels they work actually need intervention. Subsidies are not available to whom may left fields for vacant, something that might also be wrongly perceived from Mobiot's claims:
Finally, those farmers who have mainly areas which do not need any intervention to remain in a state suitable for grazing or cultivation and who do not perform a minimum activity on those areas, whatever the level of direct payments they were granted in the previous year, are considered non-active and may not receive support.
Another point worth considering, in the continent land owners are taxed, in varying degrees, but certainly not subsidised. The property tax is an important instrument to steer land owners towards best practices and fight neglect in rural areas. If land ownership is not properly taxed in the UK, that is a problem of their exclusive creation.

Monbiot further claims the EU pays farmers to destroy natural habitats. Again, reading the EAGF documentation one finds the opposite to be true, provisions are set in place to fund natural habitat protection:
In addition, as to recognise the ecological and agricultural value of some areas with extensive traditional pastoral/agricultural systems, Member States may decide to include in the category of permanent grassland any land which can be grazed and which forms part of established local practices [...] :

. practices which are important for the conservation of habitats
And once more, it is largely left to each member state how to exactly do this.

But wild life protection policies in the EU are not resumed to EAGF. Financial instruments like LIFE, EuroNatur and similar have been used for decades to protect autochthonous species and expand natural habitats across Europe. The re-introduction of top chain predators, such as wolfs, bears or lynxes, has been so successful that they threaten human settlements again.

Monbiot omits an important aspect of EU policies: the quotas systems imposed on its members states on Agriculture and Fisheries. This is one of the rare policies in the world that actually takes into account wild life stocks, as environmentalists like Herman Daly have long advocated.

Ironically, right after engaging in these deceptions, Monbiot declares himself against Brexit. If Monbiot actually wanted the UK to remain in the EU, he would have not spent time spreading false claims about the CAP and demonising the Union. He would have instead called out the implications of leaving the legal framework protecting farming in Europe.

It were people like Monbiot that, by sowing the seeds of mistrust, cast the UK to the quagmire it finds itself in. Now the UK seeks a FTA with the USA, that will forcibly include agriculture. Coming April of 2019, the UK will not only lose the environmental protection funding and legislation from the EU as it will ready itself to be flooded with products grown without any drop of environmental scruple. Soon enough we will get to know how well American farming works for the UK.

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