September 28, 2011
The draft EU budget is a win for Geoghegan-Quinn but it won’t make her popular at home.
The EU’s budget has been the subject of much wrangling of late, with the usual tug-of-war between interest groups from industry, agriculture and the rest.
Ireland’s European Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who is responsible for research, innovation and science, has won plaudits from industry and academia for convincing the Commission to pencil in a massive 45% increase in R&D funding as part of its next six-year budget which comes into effect in 2014.
So who lost? According to the current proposal, agricultural subsidies will effectively fall and some of the money that once went directly to farmers will be steered towards innovation in the food and agri-business sector.
The budget will now get knocked around by MEPs, many of whom can expect to come under fierce pressure from national agriculture lobbies. Geoghegan-Quinn scarcely endeared herself to that particular constituency by urging scientists to lobby like farmers. “The farmers will be out there lobbying, and scientists and researchers need to do the same,” she told Nature, a leading science journal.
Irish officials have been pushing for a bigger chunk of the research budget on the one hand, while at the same time fighting to preserve subsidies for Irish farmers.
Geoghegan-Quinn, in keeping with her oath to serve all Europeans and not just the Member State she knows best, seems immune to the Irish agriculture lobby – a sign, perhaps, that she knows this gig is her last.
CAP in hand
October is a key month for crunch talks on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Ireland can take some comfort that a leaked draft paper by the European Commission is not as bad as some had feared, but the UK and Poland are pushing hard for major CAP reforms which would see farm subsidies slashed.
Around 40% of the EU budget is devoted to the CAP at present but this proportion is set to fall. While the absolute amount earmarked for subsidies may be frozen, this will effectively mean a reduction in real terms.
But it doesn’t end there. A “rebalancing” of how these subsidies are spread across Europe will see Eastern European countries take a bigger share of the pie. At the same time, the days of no-strings-attached payments may soon be over as the debate turns to how CAP funds can be used to spur innovation in the agri-sector.
No matter how well Ireland can do in tapping other EU funding streams, nothing could match the impact of CAP payments. If there’s a bright side, it’s that Ireland will hold the rotating EU Presidency in 2013 when the final phase of horse-trading must be completed. Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney, a former MEP, will be spending a lot of time in Brussels.
Gary Finnegan writes the EU View column in Business & Finance magazine, a Dublin-based publicationAuthor : Gary Finnegan