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Health and Consumer Protection

Events - Assembly of consumer associations in Europe - Conclusions

Conclusions of 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 Agenda 2000.
  • 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 CAP:

  • the long-term prospects for the market point to major problems of overproduction and smaller export markets;
  • the constraints of the GATT (Uruguay round) and forthcoming negotiations in the World Trade Organisation;
  • the enlargement of the EU;
  • the internal debate (environment, BSE, product safety and quality, rural development, etc.).

The objectives of the reform proposed by the Commission (Agenda 2000):

  • improve competitiveness;
  • product quality and safety;
  • guarantee farmers a stable income;
  • the environment;
  • recognise that agriculture plays several roles.

General comments

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 products.

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 reform

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 the CAP.

Consumers call on the Commission to encourage the Member States to consult the consumers' organisations at national level.

Agenda 2000

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 people.

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 reform.

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 then.

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 prices.

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 Europe.

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 manoeuvre.

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.

Missing reforms

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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