Thursday, 21 April 2016

An Economic Selfishness Zone

Giles Fraser writes: 

The estate agent Carter Jonas established its reputation running the estates of the Marquess of Lincolnshire. “Some of the biggest property owners in the country are our loyal clients,” boasts its website. 

And, in a recent poll of these landowning clients, 67% of them said that Britain should stay in the EU.

So why all this Euro-enthusiasm in the Tory heartlands and among the landed gentry? 

“Should the UK vote to leave the EU, the CAP subsidies will likely be reduced,” Tim Jones, head of Carter Jonas’s rural division, explained. 

Thank you, Tim, for putting it so clearly. We understand. 

A massive 38% of the entire 2014-20 EU budget is allocated as subsidies for European farmers. It is far and away the biggest item of euro expenditure, about €50bn a year. 

If these billions were being used to prop up a heavy industry – steel, for example – then the neoliberals would be up in arms, complaining like mad that if an industry can’t cope with a free market then it should be left to die. 

Creative destruction, they call it. But, for some reason, when it comes to agriculture, different rules apply. Farms are not called “uneconomic” in the same way that pits and factories are

So every British household coughs up about £250 a year and hands it over to the EU, which hands it over to people like the Duke of Westminster – already worth £7bn himself. 

In 2011, the duke received £748,716 in EU subsidies for his various estates. 

So, too, Saudi Prince Bandar (he of the dodgy al-Yamamah arms deal), who pocketed £273,905 of EU money for his estate in Oxfordshire. 

The common agricultural policy is socialism for the rich. It’s a mechanism to buttress the aristocracy – who own a third of the land in this country – from the chill winds of economic liberalism. 

So why are we hearing so little about all of this in the current debate over Europe?

Because the right doesn’t want to worry its landowning friends and the left has somehow persuaded itself that the EU is a progressive force – so it suits no one’s purpose to raise this issue. 

Yet it’s a huge deal.

For the European Union has become a huge and largely invisible way of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, subsidising lord so-and so’s grouse moor, while redundancies are handed out to workers at Port Talbot (whose jobs the government can’t help subsidise because of EU rules). 

But even more problematic is the way our massively subsidised agricultural sector negatively affects farmers in the developing world.

Trade not aid” has been David Cameron’s repeated mantra for dealing with poverty in the developing world. 

But not only does the CAP subsidy to European farmers make it impossible for the unsubsidised African farmer to compete fairly in European markets, but it also creates situations where food is overproduced in Europe – remember butter mountains, milk lakes etc. 

The last big year of oversupply was 2007, when the EU amassed over 13m tonnes of cereal, rice, sugar and milk. 

This food was then dumped cheaply on the markets of the developing world, putting poor farmers out of business. 

And this is exactly what state-subsidised Chinese steel has been doing to us. 

We like the idea of the EU being this great big free-trade zone. But the word “free” here is most misleading. As so often, one person’s freedom is another’s imprisonment.

The EU operates like one great big cartel – a mechanism for fixing prices and keeping out competition. Again, it’s the poor who suffer.

Little wonder, then, the extent of economic migration. This week, 500 people drowned in the Mediterranean trying to make it to Europe for a better life

They weren’t escaping war. They were escaping poverty, running from places where it is now all but impossible to make a living off the land. 

These poor people drowned in the moat of Fortress Europe, an economic selfishness zone designed to keep most of us placidly comfortable and others with wealth and land beyond the dreams of avarice.

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