• Building a European Food and Agriculture Policy for the 21st Century

  • By Xavier Compain | 18 Dec 13
  • Today, agriculture is facing a crisis – it is being undermined by capitalism. Although everyone in the world could be fed by current agricultural production, one person in seven suffers from hunger.

    Everywhere, productivism and free competition have devastated our countryside with speculation, land monopolisation and dumping. It is time to stop this waste.

    Breaking with the Common Agricultural Policy

    To remain competitive, there has been one reform after another, and Community preferences have been sacrificed along with price and market regulations. With each successive crisis, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has encouraged the elimination of family farms and concentrated the means of production to the benefit of giant food-processing corporations and large retailers – all at the expense of public health and the consumers. As for the small farms that still exist, they have difficulty in making ends meet, which undermines their conditions of work and family life.

    European agriculture acted as the test laboratory for building the European Union and is paying a heavy price for its globalised neoliberal policies. The dismantling of public management and regulation has led to the scrapping of fishing boats and the closing down of a farm every fifteen minutes.

    A commitment to artisanal fishing

    Throughout the world, the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment programmes have forced countries to sell off their fishing licences to the detriment of their food sovereignty. Pension funds are already speculating in northern European fisheries. In Europe the reform of the Common Fishing Policy (CFP) under discussion proposes that fishermen resell their individual quotas on condition that they cease their activity. This is particularly cruel since charitable organisations are struggling, at the end of the daily auctions, to use the unsold catch. The neoliberal policies applied in Europe have produced a terrible outcome, with the right bearing a heavy responsibility for the way traditional fishing has been run down. Eight out of ten fish consumed in Europe are imported, although the objective of the CFP in 1983 was to work towards self-sufficiency in food supply. We defend a relocalised and profitable traditional fishing industry.

    This requires that, in the framework of the CFP, Europe commit itself to self-sufficiency in food supply and to moving towards public policies that aim at ensuring relocalised and remunerative activity for fishermen, and it means fighting against imports at dumping prices and controlling the practices of the big ship-owners and the profit margins of the wholesalers.

    Food and agriculture: guaranteeing food without bone meal, hormones or GMOs

    The food scandals that have taken place in Europe (pork and horsemeat labelled and sold as beef, for example) again point to the need for a healthy food supply, freed from all forms of speculation. In Europe, as in the rest of the world, the problem of hunger presents humanity with the urgent need to win the universal right to food supply as well as education and health. This means recognising that each people has the right to food sovereignty as well as food safety.

    At the moment, the CAP is turning its back on these objectives and answering only to market signals, with all the negative consequences for people and their environment.

    Faced with austerity policies and subjection to stateless capitalism, Europe’s populations are seeking ways to resist and express themselves through struggle. Popular struggles are needed to requisition farmland and to relocalise products now being imported, for the direct sale by farmers to the consumers to offset the excessive margins of the big wholesalers and for proposing laws requiring that the origin of foodstuffs be indicated.

    The member organisations of the EL, representing alternative paths as they do, are taking the initiative of a joint declaration and working in common for new European public policies resting on bold legislative proposals. The EL is calling for the guarantee of a food supply free of bone meal, GMOs and hormones.

    The Party of the European Left is committed to making food a common good of humanity. Winning this fundamental right for every human being requires a new mode of development for the planet that breaks with speculative markets. Agricultural land should be devoted to food production to feed the populations. This is the position taken by the EL at the G20 agriculture meeting in June 2011 in Paris.

    This implies that agriculture and food supply be removed from the current neoliberal practices of the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank and the Treaty of Lisbon. We propose the creation of a new international organisation in the framework of the United Nations, and we support the reform of the FAO’s Food Safety Committee (FSC), which would bring together the states, the international institutions and civil society in a new way. We think that, today, the FSC is the legitimate body for the democratic expression of the populations and could become the arbitrating institution for public policies on food and agriculture.

    The EL proposes new goals for the coming decades on the basis of three firm commitments:

    -           Fundamentally, Europe’s agriculture must guarantee the food sovereignty and security of its populations. In the face of the challenge to its food supply, European agricultural production must be supported by new public policies that answer to human needs; it must guarantee everyone quality food that is both nourishing and attractive.

    -           The ability to earn a living from one’s work with dignity is a legitimate social demand. A fair remuneration for farmers’ work and for agricultural wage earners is a precondition for developing employment in agriculture. This requires guaranteeing remunerative prices, planning production and supporting the more vulnerable crops and production chains.

    -           Mired in productivism, Europe’s agriculture must emerge from it positively and initiate a more ecological mode of development and more agro-economically autonomous farms. Agriculture based on farmers meets these objectives. Europe must prioritise channelling its aid in this direction, and ban the cultivation and use of GMOs and so encourage the ecological transition of agriculture.

    We propose to conduct public campaigns:

    -           To introduce an international safety clause in the event that the land or fishing waters of a country are threatened with speculation or diversion from food production;

    -           Establish tools to regulate the agricultural markets, buffer stocks and measures against speculation – the first step could be the creation of an international convention against speculation in foodstuffs (and here NGOs have already conducted campaigns that have put the banks on the defensive);

    -           Re-legitimise taxes on imports and exports that destabilise local markets with a view to finance the relocalisation of production;

    -           Stop supporting the production and importation of agrofuels.

    The EL proposes immediate measures for the creation of a European Food and Agricultural Policy by:

    -           Applying Community preference and suspending the bilateral free-trade agreements negotiated by the European Union

    -           Affirming food sovereignty establishing European safety stocks;

    -           Setting up economic tools for controlling the margins and practices of the giant food-processing companies and distribution networks;

    -           Faced with the danger of climatic disasters, we propose that Europe establishes a tool for protecting life-sustaining elements, meaning the land, the sea and forests – a “system of mutual insurance against disasters”.

    European agriculture and food supply must be rebuilt. Throughout Europe austerity is threatening freedom, mortgaging peace and engendering hunger. Today the reform of the PAC for 2014-2020 under discussion unfortunately remains locked into the mentality of responding only to market signals. The producers and wage earners of food producing groups, both private and cooperative, will not be able to withstand the world prices of their products or of their labour power, as the vast area of total free trade between the European Union and the United States shows well.

    We therefore think it is absolutely essential to fight against divisions and nationalism and  build solidary relations between the populations on a European scale to free the continent of the current stranglehold of the markets.

    The elections to the European Parliament in June 2014 will be a key moment for a profound change, and we intend to bring the idea of refounding the European Union into the electoral campaign. The French Communists made this commitment at their 36th Congress. Working on alternatives at a European level requires reinforcing the dynamics of the EL as the French Communist Party called for at its Humanifeste. The agriculture working group of the EL has just established its road map – as a response to food scandals it is posing the need for a healthy food supply freed from any speculative operations.

    We recognise each people’s right to food sovereignty as well as food security. In opposition to the policies of subservience to capitalism, we, the European peoples as a whole, seek our own ways forward. The Madrid Congress will involve the drafting of a platform for a European Food and Agriculture Policy which would promote a development model that encourages farmer agriculture, decently remunerates its workers and initiates the transition to ecological agriculture.

    This is the bold but exhilarating challenge we have set ourselves – to enable humanity to feed itself decently.



    This article is a revised version of a talk given at the EL Summer University at Porto on 5 July 2013.