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Friday 25th January 2013 | 11:48
Owen Paterson is not a man to let either Brussels or Strasbourg dominate the UK's national interest in agriculture.
The DEFRA Secretary gave a fascinating interview to Farming Today* (yes, I was up folks at the ungodly hour of 550am) in which he lambasted a new MEPs Agriculture Committee report on plans to 'reform' the CAP. Except in many ways, it's not 'reform' at all.
Paterson told the Radio 4 prog (listen HERE from 10.29) that the European Parliament's proposals were 'disappointing, retrograde and a backward step'.He pointed out that 'here we've got ludicrous stuff like tobacco being subsidised, so I'm genuinely disappointed'.
But what was more interesting was Paterson's response when asked several times about whether it was time to quit the EU.
Charlotte Smith asked:
"When you sit in London looking at what is being discussed by MEPs here in Brussels, Do you throw nands in are air and think I cannot wait to leave Europe so I don’t’ have to go through this ever again?"
“Well, I have to say there were disappointing votes…and it is a very complex system where we have the Parliament voting now and we have the Council where we have varying views. And many of those views are a long way from where I would like to end up..”
Asked again if that meant leaving the EU, he said that "the whole tone of the Prime Minister’s speech" was to stress the advantages of a single market and to see it extended and to stress the economic benefits of cooperation.
But Smith had another couple of bites at the cherry, without getting a direct answer:
Q: From an agricultural point of view then, are we better off staying in, despite your frustration with the current situation, rather than envisaging a future outside the EU?
Paterson: “In many areas of activity which involve agriculture, because of huge differences in the environment and the landscape across Europe, it is very hard to create one size fits all environmental policy. And therefore as we move in that direction I think it would be much better if these schemes were tailored to local circumstances and that would mean much more local decision making.”
Q: So if I can ask you a direct question: better off out or better of in?
Paterson hesitates and then says:
“That’s a glib, easy question, but it doesn’t give a very clear steer because ‘in and out’ of what? This is in a state of flux the whole time. It’s not a question of ‘in or out’of anything. What we’ve got to do is to try to work within the existing system in these talks and get the very best deal.”
It sounded all the world like a minister who was (ever so diplomatically) biting his tongue...
*FOOTNOTE: Don't forget, the PM claims he's a fan of Farming Today.
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