consumer associations in Europe
workshop No 3 on the reform of the common agricultural
policy, Rapporteur: Caroline Naett, Euro-Coop
Objective of the workshop
To consult the consumers'
organisations about their expectations and opinions
concerning the common agricultural policy (CAP) and
produce comments on the Commission's proposals set out in
The European Parliament is currently
examining the Commission's proposals, and the consumers'
positions expressed in the Working Party will be
forwarded to the MEPs.
To provide comments and information
which the members of the Consumer Committee's CAP Working
Party will be able to incorporate into their draft
report. The Working Party will meet on 20 November in
order to finalise a draft, which will be presented to the
Consumer Committee on 8 December.
Presentation by DG VI
The Working Party's deliberations began
with a presentation of the CAP and the Commission's
proposals by a representative of DG VI.
The main points made by the Commission's
representative are set out very briefly below in order to
put the Working Party's discussions into context.
The reasons for a reform of the
the long-term prospects for the market
point to major problems of overproduction and smaller
the constraints of the GATT (Uruguay
round) and forthcoming negotiations in the World Trade
the enlargement of the EU;
the internal debate (environment, BSE,
product safety and quality, rural development,
The objectives of the reform proposed by
the Commission (Agenda 2000):
product quality and safety;
guarantee farmers a stable
recognise that agriculture plays
The atmosphere in which the discussions
between farmers and consumers have been held has changed
over the years from mutual hostility to a desire for
dialogue and a recognition that common interests and
potential areas of agreement exist.
The presence of Mr Fischler at the
Consumer Congress exemplifies this. Moreover, the Chairman
set the tone of the Working Party's deliberations at the
start by pointing out that the CAP could not be blamed for
all rural problems.
The expectations of consumers
Consumers' priorities are the
environment and the quality, safety and diversity of
Consumers strongly support the
Commission's proposal to extend product liability to
agricultural producers, but would like to see the principle
of development included in the proposal. It should not be
possible for people to get out of their liability because
the risks were not scientifically established at the time
of the event in question.
Organic farming should be supported. The
price differential between organic produce and the other,
non-organic produce is unfair and does not take account of
the environmental cost of non-organic produce.
The quality standards governing the size
of fruit and vegetables do not make sense to consumers,
since they are production standards requiring the
withdrawal of good-quality, tasty products from the market,
which is not in the interests of consumers.
Insufficient role given to consumers in this
If the CAP is to meet the expectations
of consumers, they must be involved from the outset in
preparing and introducing the reform. Currently, the
consumers' organisations do not feel that sufficient
account is being taken of their views. Within the
Commission, for example, Health and Consumer Protection
Directorate-General should be consulted about decisions on
Consumers call on the Commission to
encourage the Member States to consult the consumers'
organisations at national level.
Agenda 2000 is on the right track but
still takes insufficient account of consumers'
expectations. The reform is concerned above all with
competitiveness and prices. Consumers regret that the CAP
remains essentially a purely economic policy and that they
have not been given a greater role in the process.
The Commission has drawn up its
proposals on prices with competitiveness in mind. For
consumers, product price and product safety are two sides
of the same coin. Cheaper products must under no
circumstances mean products that are less safe. All
agricultural produce must be safe. The poorest consumers
have the same right to product safety as other
The requests of consumers
Even though Agenda 2000 is on the right
track, the criticisms that consumers have been making for
years remain valid. An agricultural policy based on a
system of price support is highly contested by consumers.
Such a system is considered to be responsible for the
negative effects of the CAP (use of inputs etc.) and for
its cost to consumers and tax-payers. This concept of price
support must therefore be re-examined as part of a
As a result of the policy of price
support, quotas for limiting production were introduced.
Consumers call for the abolition of the quotas. For
example, it is unacceptable to wait until the year 2006 to
re-examine milk quotas, as measures need to be taken before
Consumers are in favour of a reduction
in direct price support but want to share in the benefits
of such a move. They wonder about the reductions in the
consumer price index of 0.3-0.45% projected by the
Commission as a result of the application of Agenda 2000.
They would like to see every effort being made to ensure
that consumer prices really reflect the fall in production
The questions put to the Commission on
the impact of the reform on the CAP budget, for example,
remain unanswered. Consumers take the view that if the
level of intervention prices falls, this should gradually
reduce the CAP budget.
Consumers request more information on
the CAP, especially on the financial impact of the reforms,
the impact of the CAP on consumers and its real cost, along
the lines of the information published by the OECD.
Consumers support the request of the Economic and Social
Committee for the publication of an annual report on the
impact of the CAP on consumers. It is indeed essential to
have all this information in order to be able to monitor
the introduction of the CAP more effectively. Certain
measures announced as part of Agenda 2000 may appear to be
positive, but it must be possible to measure their
practical effects. Information is also requested on the
impact of the CAP in the countries of central and eastern
Consumers are in favour of supporting
farmers by granting them direct assistance rather than
through price support. This assistance must be subject to
award criteria (environmental and social criteria, rural
development, etc.), which must be established globally by
the EU. The Member States may retain soom room for
Compensatory payments may be granted,
but on a temporary basis in order to allow structures to be
adapted to new production conditions, rather than on a
permanent basis. Compensatory assistance must be on a
sliding scale and limited in time.
Training programmes should be set up for
farmers in order to increase their understanding of, and
teach them about, production methods that go further
towards meeting the expectations of consumers and the
requirements of sustainable agriculture.
The Working Party talked a lot about the
arrangements for sugar and tobacco, and these reforms are
not addressed in Agenda 2000.
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