Juncker tees off his EC presidency

The Ryder Cup was a fantastic sporting event and a great victory for Europe. It was only marred by the closing ceremony at which the winning team had to suffer the so-called European anthem. Their embarrassed shuffling was in marked contrast to the patriotic fervour of the Americans to their anthem, despite the fact that they had again failed to regain the Ryder Cup. Ode to Joy, aka Beethoven’s ninth, is the European anthem, but at the end of the day the EU is not a country, rather a mix of sovereign states, and as such has no need for an anthem.

That said, there are many in Brussels who would disagree and who love the Ryder Cup because it’s one of the few occasions where Europe competes as a single team on a global stage. One firmly in that camp is the incoming European Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who makes no secret of his views as a federalist advocating ever closer ties in Europe. But when it comes to the CAP he seems to be saying the right things, advocating simplification and a focus on jobs and growth in agriculture and food.

That call for change came in a document from Mr Juncker setting out what he saw as the priorities for the commissioners. For agriculture, he wants key areas of the CAP simplified, citing greening as an example. He also said he wants rural development to focus on jobs and growth capable of being measured, and to see delivery on these priorities within 12 months.

This can be seen in two ways. It confirms the UK Government’s concerns that he’d be an interventionist in policy, around his goal of a more federal, tighter managed EU. It’s also evidence that he’s prepared to challenge commissioners to deliver the jobs and growth the ailing eurozone economy desperately needs.

For those opposed to red tape, this will be greeted with glee, provided it can be delivered. That’s a big if, since talk of change to the CAP always comes with a promise of simplification that is never delivered. This latest call over greening might come from the very top in Brussels, but while everyone says they want simplification, it’s never happened in a meaningful way. The CAP reforms now being implemented are a good example. When they were launched by the soon-to-be-former farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, he promised simplification of the rules. What he delivered were policies such as greening and active farmers, which will bring more red tape. To be fair, he did exclude smaller farmers from the CAP, but this is irrelevant so far as farmers in the UK and much of northern Europe are concerned.

For the incoming farm commissioner, Phil Hogan, this is a unique opportunity. His boss has told him to deliver something most people would like to see happen. Mr Juncker is right that the focus should be on economic growth, and agriculture and food is Europe’s second-biggest sector and a massive part of the eurozone economy. Red tape in the CAP does not deliver economic growth. If he wants to be radical, Mr Hogan could make public that his goal is to respond to the challenge set by Mr Juncker. He could commit to delivering simplification via a reduction in excessive regulation of the CAP, not by taking small farmers out of its scope, but by examining where every policy area could be freed of red tape.

Welcome as that would be, it’s doubtful if it will happen. That said, the goal has been set by Mr Juncker, and Mr Hogan will be expected to deliver. To go down, after five years, as a good commissioner means delivering change – and a simpler, less bureaucratic, and more focused CAP would be a good legacy for any farm commissioner.

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