EU wants to re-educate eurocrats back on the farm

20th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

European farmers often criticise EU agricultural policy for being too complex, swamping them in rules and paperwork in order to receive the right farm subsidies.

Brussels -- The European Commission wants its agriculture officials to swap their pinstripes and laptops for overalls and shovels in obligatory "farm stays" to help take policy-making back to the land.

The "Harvest Experience" programme was unveiled by EU Agriculture Commissioner Mariann Fischer-Boel on Wednesday as part of the EU executive's plans for a "A simplified CAP for Europe."

The overall aim is to simplify and reduce the bureaucratic costs of the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which eats up over 40 percent of the overall EU budget.

"As from 2010, a training programme will be set up for officials from the Directorate General for Agriculture and Rural Development which involves a farm stay," the commission's project document says.

"The purpose of this programme is to acquire a better understanding of the practicalities and challenges the sector faces," states the document to EU nations and the European Parliament.

"This added understanding may lead to policies that connect even better to the practical situation farmers find themselves in and hence contribute to better quality regulation," it adds.

European farmers often criticise the CAP for being too complex, swamping them in rules and paperwork, leaving some spending more time at their desks than in their fields, in order to receive the right farm subsidies.

"The general perception is that Brussels is in a bit of a bubble," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of Copa-Cogeca, the Brussels-based confederation of European farm cooperatives.

The Commission says it has made much effort in recent years to simplify the legislation and has fixed a target to cut 25 percent of the scheme's administrative costs by 2012.

The idea is to get "the rural workers and the bureaucrats speaking the same language," a commission official said. That goal is no small thing in regard to the plethora of Eurospeak, particularly in agriculture dossiers.

Aware of the problem, Danish commissioner Fischer-Boel, whose husband used to be a farmer, now wants the functionaries to understand the language of the sons and daughters of agricultural toil.

"The language used in legal acts may limit their accessibility for ordinary users. The Commission will endeavour, by assessing its use of language and the possibility of providing training on writing skills, to render legal acts easier to read," the commission statement promises.

"I would love to spend a week on the farm," said EU commission agriculture spokesman Michal Mann.

However the ideas left some farmers sceptical.

"It makes you think of Mao's Cultural Revolution or Pol Pot's Cambodia," when intellectuals were "re-educated" in the country, quipped one farm union official.

For Gerard Choplin, an official with the European Farmers Coordination group, very critical of the CAP, the whole scheme is a "smokescreen" to turn attention away from the real problems.

"Under cover of simplifying the CAP, the commission is in fact following a liberal policy of deregulation, just as everyone is calling for more regulation of the markets. In the name of simplifying bureaucracy they are also seeking to suppress the very small farm subsidies," he added.

Copa-Cogeca's Pesonen gave the commission more credit.

"I think it is a sincere attempt by the commission to improve its image and to get its staffers to know the land better. It remains to be seen whether it will be seen as a free holiday for Eurocrats."


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