Medieval Agricultural Policy


I like French cheese, Italian ham and Greek olives. I also like French vegetables (haricots verts extra-fins, petits pois et carottes), Italian grains (pasta, polenta, risotto), German meats (sausage, veal, smoked tenderloin) and Belgian beer. I pay extra for such items because of their quality. I buy them online from UK websites.

In the stores, one finds d’Isigny camembertMaille mustardPoilâne bread and, well, just about anythingDebauve & Gallais chocolates are sold in Paris, Athens, New York, Montreal, Seoul, Beijing, Dubai and on their website. The sun never sets on Echiré butter.

We are living in 2013, not 1320. We have computers linked via the internet running sophisticated analysis, production, logistics and financial software We have airplanes and courier services that ship internationally, overnight. We have Facebook and Twitter to build brands and markets. We have tablets and mobile phones from which to shop.

Why, then, does the European Union need to spend 278 billion euros (30% of its annual budget) on agricultural subsidies? Do blacksmiths still make horseshoes? Are farmers running low on wooden blades for their plows? Perhaps special barns are needed for oxen.

Ah, but the bucolic life of medieval Europe must be preserved. It doesn’t matter that 85% of the global economy is now in services running on high-speed fiber-optic cable. Nor does it matter that Europeans farmers are selling their products at high prices via those same fiber-optic networks. The Common Agricultural Policy, like Chartres Cathedral, is sacred.

Germany leads the world in manufacturing – without a Common Industrial Policy – due to the excellent design and high quality of its products. Switzerland leads the world in watchmaking. France and Italy lead the world in cuisine. Should the EU also subsidize the French and Italian fashion industries?

European agriculture enjoys a huge brand advantage over other countries. Many products trace their ancestry back centuries and are rich in history. French and Italian wines are an obvious example, as is French pâtisserie (DalloyauLadurée), but consider also Le Puy lentils, Agen prunes, Bayonne ham and Bresse chicken. From the ground up, Europe can compete in the global market based on the iconic status of its agricultural products. Gross subsidies on top of that advantage amount to an unfair trade practice.

Agricultural subsidies might have made sense in the aftermath of World War II (when people were starving). They might have made sense in the 1960s (before the invention of the pocket calculator) or in the 1970s (before the personal computer) or even in the 1980s (before the Internet), but not now. European agriculture has embraced globalization. Yet politicians are rooted in an ancient mentality no longer relevant to the modern world.

It took the Catholic Church 360 years to forgive Galileo for demonstrating that the earth went around the sun. How long will it take for the European Union to get rid of the Common Agricultural Policy?