August 19th, 2006

Sandwich jambon de pays

I’m always taken aback by the truly lovely food you can find anywhere in France. It is just routine, part of the fabric and goes right across all forms of food – like the stunning ham sandwich I had earlier.

How much of this is down to the CAP, which is so aggressively defended by French farmers?
Well I suspect not much, as the same system produces fields of barley and oil-seed rape in Britain and Britain’s emerging farmers’ market movement hardly relies on CAP payments at all. But just suppose that support for French farmers truly did underpin French regional gastronomy, would it be acceptable? One might even consider a ‘cuisine’ (as opposed to food) to be a public good, like a language or a mythology – and worth preserving at a cost greater than that which its immediate users are prepared to pay. In my view, support for French farmers might be justified under two conditions: first that the support is provided by the French taxpayer or food consumer – not by transfers between EU member states. Second, that the support is as far as possible non-trade distorting so that other countries are not forced to follow or introduce barriers to trade. This is the key to CAP reform in my opinion – let each country decide if, why and how to support its farming industry but in a way that doesn’t require everyone else to do the same.

1 comment to Sandwich jambon de pays

  • Clive Bates

    Hello anon, all good points… I’m not really for so much of a Year Zero approach to subsidiarity as might sometimes appear… but I do think we should examine the underlying rationale for these expenditures and transfers at EU level… and be very cautious about them.

    I don’t think the french should subsidise their farmers to protect their gastronomy, but I think it is more important that this is their call and their right to have a dumb approach to farm policy if at’s what they decide to be important. The main thing is that others are not required to be in lock step with them – as with the CAP. Having said that, I think the idea that a cuisine is a bit like a language might be a runner for a ‘market failure’ test. Analagous with expenditures to protect Welsh, Gaelic, Basque etc.

    On structural funds, I’m glad that equal opportunities are a condition, though I’m not really sure what an equal opportunities road looks like…) But are the right roads (and other projecs) being built? Or are ineffecive projects chasing the available money? I did a posting on flood projects funded by the structural funds a while back, and it’s not a happy story – the projects would not be funded under UK prioritisation of the flood risk funding because they have poor project societal cost-benefit analysis. Yet the money originally comes from the UK taxpayer – so the structural funds effectively diverts public money into less attactive projects.

    But the real question you pose I would interpret as: “what are good reasons to spend money at the EU level?”.

    There are several straight forward ansers to this (foreign affairs and security, making the internal market, so large scale R&D and a few other things that form a core collective action function for the EU). More interesting and subtle might be where market failure extends to “government failure”… where we might expect the poorer and weaker governments to be unable or unwilling to address market failures such as provision of public goods or other classic roles for government. This is the sort of place where a Pillar II-type mechanism might fit. So I favour a “sustainable development mechanism” to replace CAP that would make these kind of transfers. Though longer term, as the poorer countries progress, I’d expect the prime driver of environmental protection to be the body of EU regulation on the environment (a formidable acquis) with compliance costs carried by consumers/beneficiaries through the polluter pays principle. As that happens, I’d rather see the wealthy EU states funding the external agenda rather than other EU states. For example, the stability of former Soviet states, North Africa and the Middle East and funding accession by Turkey and the Balkans.

    Probably rambled enough on this for now, but I think the interesting prior questions to “what are good reasons to spend money at the EU level?” are “what is the EU for?” and “what are the rights and responsibilities of member states?”… I’m sure I’ll get back to that… and your views very welcome.

    Still enjoying the Pyrenees food and wine… nothing could distract from that.

    Clive

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