Increasing subsidies for military production will not solve the problem of farmers

Last Updated on Thursday, 29 February, 2024 at 9:09 am by Andre Camilleri

Last week I was invited to a TV panel discussion on PBS. The discussion circled around to the framers’ protests in Europe, as well as in Malta. Frankly, I expected to debate the current problems with a candidate running for the European elections from the opposite party. Sincerely, it was nice though to have Toni Bezzina on the panel.

Initially, the discussion revolved around the problems that farmers are facing within the industry. The discussion was about to resent the Maltese government rather than the EU. However, the audience recognised that it is indeed a European problem, which is primarily attached to the bilateral trade agreements negotiated by the EU. Furthermore, the EU is also looking into expanding bilateral trade agreements with Latin American countries. Technically, a European farmer requires to follow the EU rules and standards, which are quite arduous and strict, as well as costly to follow. On the other hand, third countries’ produce does not fall under EU rules although there are general standards to declare. Hence, taking into consideration the past rate of inflation in Europe, as well as the costs associated to retain the standards, European farmers are at a competitive disadvantage. Alas, the war in Ukraine, and the sanctions imposed on Russia fuelled additional costs which made it difficult to the sector to operate, partly due to the exorbitant costs of fertilisers, dearer fodder, as well as astronomical fuel and energy prices. Well, Ursula von der Leyen did not get it quite right. Did she?

Also, during the programme we discussed the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and what falls under Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 funding. Pillar 1 funding relates to direct payments. We receive approximately €5 million direct payments per year. The metric used to calculate our share of direct payments was agreed before we joined the EU. There is only one government to blame if they agreed to it, even though we need a standard metric no matter how skewed it is to calculate the shares of direct payments. Technically, we receive around €500 per hector, while other EU countries receive much less. When we joined the EU in 2004, along with another nine member states, the share of the Baltic countries was much less to around €150 per hector. However, when they learned about this misalignment relative to the €300 per hector and more snatched by  French and German farmers, the Baltics requested to align this to €250 per hector. Since then, a process called external convergence kicked off, which implied that the convergence would be split over 21 years split over three MFF programmes of seven years each. The idea was to allocate one third capped averages per MFF, starting in 2014 and which sealed a deal for member states to receive the same average of direct payments over the years.

Under Pillar 2 the Maltese government negotiated a special allocation for the current MFF 2020-2027, of around €56 million, which sums up to around €156 million. Additionally, we have the flexibility to allocate 25% of the €156 million to Pillar 1 under direct payments. Therefore, the figure of direct payments is doubled to around €10 million. This means that the candidate of the Nationalist Party, who was on a different discussion programme quoting a European Commission fact sheet got it completely wrong, just like he got it completely wrong when he spoke about the funding of the European Peace Facility. Furthermore, the Maltese government topped the figure of direct payments in 2023 and 2024 by another €12 per year. Not to mention the subsidy for the fertilisers amounting to another €3.8 million. This means that for 2023 and 2024 the Maltese government alone subsidised and is subsiding the local farmers with more funds than we actually receive under Pillar 1.

Nonetheless, the EU must seek alternative ways to support its sectors beyond the proposed subsidies for defence and military industries. In all honesty, I am not sure what possessed Ursula von der Leyen to come out and say that they want to incentivise the defence industry to start producing ammunitions. To make matters worse, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that Europe’s security depends on Ukraine’s resilience to defeat Russia. Also, President Macron said that there is no consensus to send Western troops to Ukraine, but nothing should be excluded. Technically, it can be executed under Article 44 of the Lisbon Treaty. The coalition of willing countries can see a military operation and boots on the ground in Ukraine beyond NATO. However, the spokesperson of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, stated that if the military alliance deployed troops to Ukraine a direct conflict between NATO and Russia is inevitable. Additionally, President Macron said that European leaders agreed to set up a coalition to supply Ukraine with medium and long-range missiles and bombs.

However, I want to reply to a comment  passed by Dr Peter Agius on a state TV discussion programme about the European Peace Facility. I can speak about the instrument because I was in the midst of the negotiations, and I objected to finance lethal weapons. I already replied to his colleague Dr Roberta Metsola, who both  seem to have a difficulty to comprehend the legal architectures of the said instruments. Well, they should grasp the concept faster than I do because unlike me they are both lawyers. Anything under Common and Foreign Security Policy of the EU should be agreed by Unanimity. However, under the Treaty of Lisbon, we have what is called a possible constructive abstention, where member states can constructively abstain without stalling the process. What does that mean? It means that despite our agreement on replenishing the European Peace Facility, the Maltese funds do not go to finance lethal weapons. No funding of lethal weapons means, no missiles, no fighter jets and nothing that is of lethal nature. So, when we receive a proposal on funding lethal weapons, Malta constructively abstains in Council through a declaration, and other member states are allowed to do what they want with their share of money, when it comes to lethal weapons. After all it is their money not ours. In principle, we do not agree because we constructively abstain in Council. The same applies with European Council Conclusions. These are politically binding conclusions which must be adopted by consensus. This means that even if we agree at the political level, when it comes to Council formations, we still defeat the purpose because when we go down the hierarchy level, thanks to my negotiations on the constructive abstention, we still do not fund lethal weapons.

Can someone gently pick this up and inform the public about it in the most correct way? It is a dereliction of your duty to not report the correct facts to the public. Meanwhile, good luck with your campaigns. Just remember that Gazans are starving, and we are risking a humanitarian tragedy. Truly heartbreaking and sad!

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