Each year, the EU spends $75 billion on farm subsidies, fully two fifths of the EU’s annual budget. Considering the economic turmoil already consuming Europe, this year’s debate over agricultural subsidies promises to be entertaining, especially as greens start shouting for environmental restrictions on farming. The WSJ reported yesterday:
The [European] commission also wants to make a third of direct payments contingent on farmers following new rules on protecting the environment. Among them are proposed obligations to set aside at least 7% of arable land to “ecological focus areas,” such as forests or buffer strips, and to grow at least three different crops at any one time.
Some critics said the 7% rule risked being largely symbolic because it would keep subsidy money flowing to farmers…
Green lobbies are usually not strong enough to get what they want without help; the classic green strategy is to team up with some commercial interest that stands to benefit from some kind of regulation or subsidy. The politics of ethanol in the US is a classic example. The green lobby couldn’t get alternative fuel policies without allies; farmers couldn’t get more corn subsidies without the help of the greens.
The push for cap and trade carbon regimes and carbon permit markets is supported not just by starry eyed green activists but by a range of financial and industrial interests who see profits ahead.
So far, so normal. But the problem for greens is that when it comes to actual policy design, the pure greens are usually weaker and often less canny than their commercial allies. Again, there is ethanol: by the time the farm lobby was finished, it was a monstrosity that starved the poor and on balance added carbon to the atmosphere. The environmental movement had let itself be reduced to a smear of green lipstick on an Iowa pig.
This happens over and over and, judging from the EU debate, it is happening again. The green label on a policy is popular enough that by invoking it farmers can get more money out of the taxpayers, but farmers are not willing to make any sacrifices of profitability or flexibility in order to get the dough. Greens are too weak and/or unclever to counter the farm lobby, so yet another pig waddles to the feeding trough with a nice coat of organic green gloss on its moist and tender lips.