[inline:01]When Zeus fell in love with young Europa, the transformed himself into a bull and abducted her. That story is fairly famous. What happened next is less well-known. Europe gave birth to a calf which grew up to be the sacred cow of the European Union. Considering the EU’s origins, it is no wonder that, from its early days, it took a particular interest in agriculture, especially beef and dairy produce.
The daughter of beautiful Europe, however, proved to be not quite as beautiful as her mother. The EU inherited some charming characteristics from Europe, but also some really ugly aspects from Father Zeus. One of these is called the Common Agricultural Policy.
The CAP devours almost half of the EU’s annual budget. It distributes subsidies to protect farmers in the 15 pre-enlargement EU countries whose income is threatened by farmers from non-EU countries able to produce at lower costs. A dismantling of the CAP would ruin farmers who, without the CAP, would long have gone out of business. The CAP subsidies, however, do not all go to small farmers. As with all government schemes money ends up with people who do not really need it. Lots of the CAP money flows to the coffers of large landowners, such as the British Queen and the Prince of Wales.
Why does it protect only farmers from the 15 pre-enlargement members and not from the 10 new EU member states? Because to have offered the same CAP benefits to the big agricultural economies of Eastern Europe would have bankrupted the entire system. Indeed, each cow in the 15 countries of the pre-enlargement EU gets a subsidy of two euros per day, which is more than what half the world’s population earns.
Though even The Guardian calls the CAP an “absurd protectionist regime,” unfortunately, it leads a life of its own and is virtually unreformable. The CAP has proved a financial and economic disaster, but in terms of supranational cooperation it was a success. Moreover, it is a multinational welfare operation for farmers. Some want to turn the EU into a gigantic welfare state, not just for farmers, but for all citizens.
A second reason why it is unlikely that the CAP will be reformed, let alone dismantled, is that for some EU countries (such as France, which receives a quarter of all CAP subsidies), it provides a convenient social-welfare system for their rural communities, which is largely paid for by other member countries (such as Britain). At tomorrow’s EU Summit at Hampton Court the CAP will be discussed, and there might even be some Franco-British quarreling, but the holy cow will definitely not be slaughtered.
On the contrary, Europe’s leaders will devote their attention to the new chimera of how to turn Europe into a “social model state” by creating a Common Social Policy next to the Common Agricultural Policy. Not only the farmers have to be protected against those who produce the same (or even better) quality at a lower price, but the workers as well.
For three decades now, the social-democratic welfare systems of western Europe have, slowly, but surely, been moving towards total financial, political and moral collapse. Politicians seem to think that the welfare model can be saved by transplanting it to a supranational level. Again, as with the CAP, the 10 new member states will not be allowed to share in the benefits. On the contrary, they are the spoilsports who, by swamping Europe with plumbers and construction workers and by challenging it with low corporate taxes, have undermined the social model. Hence, the proposal of Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt tomorrow to create a “hard core” of the Eurozone countries, intent on deepening the European Union rather than enlarging it.
[inline:02]“Deepening” is the code word for more socialism, while “enlargement” is the code word for liberalisation. Naive Estonians who hope that they will soon be able to join the Eurozone had better wake up. Enlarging the “hard core” with liberalising economies is something the proponents of the European “social model” will not allow to happen. Zeus’ child is, indeed, an ugly and utterly selfish beast.
Meanwhile one might wonder why Tony Blair invited his colleagues to Hampton Court, the former palace of Henry VIII. Is it a token of goodwill, given that Henry executed all his English wives but only divorced his continental ones? Or is it because Henry was a bully, the most Zeus-like of all English monarchs? Anyway, as long as there is beef on the menu, the EU will be true to its origins.