12 Oct 2011

Queen to lose out in shake up of Europe’s farm payouts?

Changes to Europe’s farm handouts could hit big landowners like the Queen. But critics say it is a massive missed opportunity to abandon the subsidy culture for good.

From wine lakes to butter mountains, Europe’s common agriculture policy has long been pilloried by its critics. And the latest shake-up has done little to satisfy them.

The proposed changes, announced by Europe’s Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, will cut the share of Europe’s budget spent on farm subsidies, slashing payments to large landowners and forcing all farmers to do more to help the environment.

Under the plans, subsidies would be capped at just over £250,000 a year, affecting a few hundred landowners in the UK, including the Queen. She was paid some £224,000 from the EU for her Windsor farm estate last year – and is thought to get a similar amount for land in Balmoral and Sandringham.

Unhelpful and disappointing. National Farmers Union

However the National Trust, which gets around £2.4m, is condsidering seeking exemption due to its charitable status, saying it is concerned about tenant farmers who look after some of its most important land.

Jack Thurston from the campaign group farmsubsidy.org told Channel 4 News this was no radical proposal for reform. He said: “Under the Commission plan, the CAP will remain a system to subsidise landowners, rather than the modern, flexible policy to encourage sustainable land management and food production that Europe desperately needs.”

Tractor in field (Getty)

Green plans

Europe’s plans to make farms greener, by requiring up to 10 per cent of agricultural land to lie fallow, are no more popular. The aim, according to the commission, is to “enhance the sustainable management of natural resources across the whole of the EU”.

Farmers’ leaders have described many of the proposals as “unhelpful and disappointing”. And the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said a “precious opportunity” for serious change had been lost”.

Commission power point slide to explain changes

The commission’s PowerPoint attempt to explain the changes.

Environmentalists dismayed

Environmental campaigners have also expressed their dismay, saying today’s reform measures would simply continue to prop up large-scale factory farming and expensive food exports, with what they called “devastating consequences for rainforests, the climate and some of the world’s poorest people”.

A precious opportunity has been lost. Caroline Spelman, Environment Secretary

Britain has argued for the “subsidy dependent” culture to be abandoned altogether. World food prices are at record levels, which, they argue, should allow EU farmers to compete on global markets without resorting to handouts.

The National Farmers Union supports a similar goal, but in the real world, they say direct payments are essential to help farmers cope with things like extreme weather, huge price fluctuations, and the increasing power of retailers.