A hot issue in the CAP negotiations is the question of restrictions on the planting of vineyards. But why should Scotland care?
The old CAP wine regime said that European farmers couldn’t plant vineyards without getting central permission – a bit like the milk quota system. The idea was to keep production down and prices up, to the benefit of producers (but to the detriment of anyone wanting to enter the sector).
When the big CAP reform of 2003 was rolled out to the wine sector, the decision was taken to phase out these planting restrictions by 2015. With that date approaching, the wine-producing member states have started putting pressure on the European Commission to have the decision reversed. In typical bureaucratic fashion, the Commission has set up a committee to look into it, a so-called High Level Group.
Clearly this isn’t the most relevant part of the CAP reform package for Scotland. But there are several reasons why we shouldn’t ignore it.
First, there’s a point of principle that says if the CAP has evolved so as to expose farmers more to market forces, then that should apply equally across all sectors.
Then there’s our interest as consumers. By which, I mean industrial as well as individual consumers. A similar debate is going on in relation to sugar beet planting quotas, and the supply of sugar to our food and drink industry is definitely something we should pay attention to.
Finally, this debate raises the question of when can a deal be re-opened. The whole point of EU negotiations is that the end result is an international compromise, in which everyone gets something but nobody ever gets everything they asked for. On one hand it would be foolish to say that no deal can ever be re-opened even if, for instance, new information comes to light. On the other hand, if it were too easy to re-open previous decisions then the whole process of negotiating compromises would be undermined. A fair and balanced deal could be upset if member states can simply at a later date renegotiate the bits they don’t like. And that’s an issue that applies to all CAP business, not just the wine regime.
The irony of all this is that one of the reasons for the decision to phase out vineyard planting restrictions was that they didn’t work. Maybe they would have, if EU wine growers’ competition only came from other EU growers. But of course there’s been a massive rise in imports of non-European wine, and it’s hard to see that changing.