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30.03.2010 General posts
 
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  • Is there anything that is not special?

Is there anything that is not special?

Agriculture is special. It therefore deserves an outstanding dose of public subsidies. Or so we are told. But is there anything that is not special? The standard approach of CAP critics is analytical: debunking erroneous claims for subsidies. The problem is that rational argument goes only that far. So the idea is to try something else: making up far-fetched cases in favor of subsidizing non-agricultural sectors. Their resemblance to some pro-CAP arguments would show the latter’s absurdity. The alternative is to look at non-agricultural regions: cities' claim to special treatment give a real-world set of arguments that is hard to match.

For instance, a totally unconvincing point could be made that the EU should pay for skiing resorts. The owners and employees in the ski resort industry are exposed to the vagaries of weather. Global warming brings a new challenge that requires urgent adaptation through additional snow canons. Ski resorts play a vital role in providing employment in rural areas. Their seasonally anti-cyclical job demand helps to balance occupational fluctuations in the agricultural and construction sectors. In many further regards, skiing resorts are an essential element of the rural economy, with crucial down- and upstream linkages. For instance, it is only the winter business that permits the maintenance of a sufficient medical infrastructure in remote mountain areas.

While I was still wondering about what other claims I could make up, I ran into the contribution of Eurocities to the Budget Review consultation. It perspicaciously notes:

"It is striking to see that the consultation paper mentions the specificities of the countryside, the rural society and maritime areas, however that the specific impact of the challenges on Europe’s cities and urban area is not considered. With the majority of Europe’s citizens living in Europe’s cities, the specificity of these territories is substantial. To ensure the interest and engagement of the majority of Europe’s citizens, it would be a missed opportunity not to pay particular attention to the places where they are living and working. EU spending should remain sensitive to the fact that the most acute impacts of the global challenges may be felt in densely populated city districts, the extreme situation of which may be masked by regional or national statistics. The persistent problem of reliable and comparable local level statistics remains a barrier to effective targeting of funds and to the level of predictability and effective anticipation of future needs. These factors are essential to ensuring sound policy development and efficiency of spending."

And they have excellent reasons (very much the same alleged by rural areas). For instance:

"Demographic projections at macro level do not help understand the massive diversity of situations that Europe’s cities will face. Many expect population growth, despite falling birth rates, due to inward migration. Of these, some will also experience significant outward migration. Both cases will result in substantial social change, as the groups coming in and those leaving will probably be very different. At the same time, there are cities who will suffer population decline, due to negative birth rates and outward migration. All will be affected by increased percentages of elderly citizens. Each scenario will bring new and very different challenges to which cities have to respond …"

Or:

"… cities are clearly in a very strong position to help Europe reduce its CO2 emissions and to take the lead in mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. However they cannot be expected to bear the burden alone for helping reach what are European, and indeed global objectives."

In sum:

"The EU cannot afford to neglect the concentration of multiple challenges in urban areas. Cities need European support – just as Europe needs its cities."

The conclusion is patent:

"Urban priorities in all relevant Community funding programmes, if possible through bundling urban priorities in dedicated part of funding programmes …"

Wouldn't it be smarter to move to a horizontal EU approach that creates suitable conditions for sustainable growth without discriminating between rural and urban areas - and leave more targeted economic policies that respond to each region's individual circumstances to the regions themselves?