To simplify the CAP: what a great idea!
The new European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, the Irishman Phil Hogan, has rightly defined the simplification of European legislation as one of its top priorities. He, even, took as an example the European regulation for fruits and vegetables. The fact is that, so far, this has not been really done but it should not demoralize us but, on the contrary, encourage further efforts.
Much of the difficulties come from the confusion surrounding the word "simplification".
What do we really want, to simplify the regulations or to make them more easy to implement and to manage for the farmers and the administrations? Both are not always compatible. Sometimes, the more precise a rule is, the easier it is to apply. But this often requires some kind of complexity to take into account the huge diversity of existing situations.
In this case of fruit and vegetables, behind the word "simplify" you can find different strategies and request. This will not make the task easier.
Some people believe that the best way to simplify this regulation is simply to cancel it and to transfer the scheme to the second Pillar, the Rural Development regulation. Others, including some Member States, use the word "simplification" when they want some protection against the retroactive interpretations of Commission inspectors that end with significant financial corrections. Just with a quick googeling, you find the cases of Belgium, Greece and Italy in 2013 and of Denmark, France, United Kingdom, Greece and Italy in 2014 .
Some of these financial corrections are related to different interpretations and readings of the Regulations, for instance on issues such as "outsourcing"; "Democratic control"; "Recognition criteria"; "Environmental management of packaging".
The transfer to Rural Development is a Loch Ness Monster; Even if it would be a real simplification, it has never been proposed by the Commission and has been rejected by the Member States or the European Parliament. Some of the arguments supporting the radical refusal are related to the absence today of national co-financing for the operating funds; the lack of real margin inside the Rural development programs to include this new measure and that this could be seen as an additional discrimination against the new Member States which have not yet had sufficient time to take advantage of Community support to develop their producers' organisations.
The other point of view, which we could call "simplification versus legal security", may introduce greater complexity and rigidity in the regulation, if it tries to cover most of the possible casuistry, which is normally not compatible with short and simple texts.
An example is better than thousands of words. Setting a European Union threshold for Po's minimum members and turnover is a real simplification. When we tried, we had to take account of the differences between big and small producing countries or POs with one or several products. But we had to change the rules when some traditional organic mushrooms producers in the specific region of a Prime Minister decided to create a Po for their local market. We never foresaw this possibility. Life is unpredictable, full of surprises!
In between these two positions, there is obviously much grey area which is exactly that, a field for different interpretation and casuistries.
Does this mean that nothing can be done? Obviously not! Legal texts and administrative management practices can always be improved, in particular thanks to past experiences. This should be a joint commitment and venture. Early harvest is possible and should be welcome.
But path dependence should be avoided. Perhaps time to reshape globally the CAP is coming. We will develop some thinking in new capsules of the CAP.