The trend in the voting in the online debate has been clear since the start: the majority of participants have been opposed to the motion “European agriculture is a good model for the rest of the world to follow”. What has evolved over the last weeks is the share of the votes. On the first day, 80% disagreed. By the end of the debate, the proportion of voters opposed to the motion fell to 73%.
The voting results mirror the vast majority of comments made by people joining the debate. Most participants were critical of European agriculture for a variety of reasons. Many pointed out that the system of direct payments favours large farmers and big landowners such as the Queen of England. Alan Matthews, who was opposing the motion, and Ariel Brunner of Birdlife Europe point out that despite claims that farmers should be paid for farming in an environmentally-sustainable way, European agriculture faces problems such as nitrate run-off and water depletion.
The closing stage of the debate came in the week that MEPs were voting in Strasbourg on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. As Brecht Lein points out, the initial reforms from the European Commission were designed to “regain public confidence in an agricultural system based on direct subsidies and protective market measures”. A key aim of the reforms was that “public money should go to providers of public goods”, meaning farmers would be motivated and rewarded for taking climate-friendly measures. But the vote in the Parliament suggests that many of the Commission’s initial ambitions were watered down as MEPs sought to protect payments for farmers.
As I noted in previous remarks, defenders of the CAP were strikingly absent from the debate, perhaps because their attention was focused on the parliament. What remained was a line of argument that was encapsulated by Sjamme Höschen who posted “the European model is not the worst in the world, but it could be way better”.
This was a line followed by Staffan Nilsson, who spoke in favour of the motion, and commentators like Falkenherz who argued that, without the CAP, European agriculture would be more industrial and consume more natural resources. More family farms would disappear in the battle for survival of the fittest, they warned.
In concentrating on the failings of the current European model of agriculture, the attempts to highlight the achievements of European farming were rather unconvincing.
I would like to thank Staffan Nilsson and Alan Matthews for their stimulating and thoughtful contributions to the debate, as well as their willingness to engage with opposing arguments. Thanks are due also to the guest speakers who enriched the debate with their perspectives.