Common action to improve Common Agricultural Policy

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Dominika Czyz is an alumni reporter and reports from the 6th European Organic Congress: Organic and high nature value farming shaping future food systems, 17-18 April, 2012, Copenhagen.

I believe in “the power of words”. If I were to choose a key word to describe the 6th European Organic Congress in Copenhagen, I would choose a circle. Not because of the circle being a symbol for perfection though. I have never managed to draw a perfect circle and believe nothing is perfect. Nevertheless, the struggle for perfection already creates a chance for improvement. There is such a chance in the case of Common Agricultural Policy since there are people willing to strive for perfection.

Common Agricultural Policy is the system of European Union subsidies designed to preserve rural heritage, provide farmers with a reasonable standard of living and consumers with quality food at fair prices. Currently the subsidies represent almost a half of the EU’s budget. Yet, according to legislative proposals due to come into force after 2013, the current spending share is  projected to fall significantly to about 1/3 of the European budget.  In contrast with the decrease in the total sum of direct payments, the share of direct payments addressed to organic farmers and growers  is to be on the increase to help tackling environmental and economic problems facing agriculture. A challenge to improve and align the Common Agricultural Policy with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth has been set.

The first to take the challenge was Jerzy Bogdan Plewa, who promised to “remove the question mark”, referring to the title of the opening session of  the 6th European Organic Congress – “CAP post 2013- greener, smarter, fairer?” . Sounds perfect. Nevertheless, improving Common Agricultural Policy alone still seems to be an attempt to square the circle. The problem is simply too complex. What is needed is common action.

The Circle - key word of the conference

The grounds for the opinion are three circles presented during the closing session by Ybele Hoogeveen. The circles are the symbol for complexity of the system. The first circle represents the ecosystem described as the natural capital of renewable resources. The second circle is a symbol of the economy based on producing goods and delivering services. The third circle is reserved for human well-being that combines social and human capital. The circles overlap: a part of human activities are economic activities; the activities require certain natural resources: food, water, energy but may be performed only within constraints set to society and economy by the natural environment.

In the point of intersection of the circles there is a place for agriculture. And in the point of intersection of environmental, economic and social policy there is a place for agricultural policy. Adding the word common calling for both common sense and common knowledge makes improving the common agricultural policy be even more a complex issue to discuss.

According to Arie van den Brand, to make the complex simple, we need to “develop a common language”. It seems that I am not the only person that believes in the power of words. Nevertheless, the key word chosen by the president of ARC 2020 was different. Arie van den Brand suggested that collective should be the most important word of the common language, since it is collective work that will help moving one step forward towards greener, smarter and fairer Common Agricultural Policy. A great example of such a common action could be the ARC 2020 itself: a multi-stakeholder platform of over 150 organizations was set up to ensure communication between civil society and European Union institutions. What is the main message to communicate? “Paradigm shift in agriculture” – said Arie van den Brand on behalf of the collective demanding full sustainability in European Agriculture by 2020.

Perfect though it sounds, the step towards a bigger change is still complex. Yet, in the complexity Christopher Stopes saw the strength. And I can see the strength in the circle of passionate individuals that gathered during the 6th European Organic Congress to accomplish the mission set by the president of IFOAM EU Group in the opening speech of the congress: “to present a voice that is clear and strong enough to be heard”.

In Copenhagen I heard the voice. Trees Robijns calling from the scene that “we can make a difference” during the final discussion panel made me believe that the step towards a bigger change has already been made. During the closing panel of the 6th European Organic Congress Ybele Hoogeveen agreed that “it is a step in the right direction, but still a small step”. Current challenges require more rigorous measures to make transition towards smarter, greener and fairer Common Agricultural Policy possible.

The power of words must be transformed into the power of action. Policy makers cannot walk around in circles looking for a simple solution to a complex problem. If I were to suggest the first step for the political circle of the European Comission, I would suggest taking common action together with the collective that gathered during the 6th European Organic Congress. Since the collective is willing to strive for perfection, improving Common Agricultural Policy no longer seems to be an attempt to square a circle.  And I strongly believe in the final words that were written.

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