This picture was taken during our luncheon with Dr. Born, General Secretary of the Deutscher Bauernverband. We had an excellent discussion on issues that face the DBV, in comparison to those that face the American Farm Bureau. In the photo, from the left: Shane Otley of Oregon, Tracy Grondine of Washington DC, Chad Vorthmann of Colorado, Dr. Helmut Born of the DBV, and Katherine Harrison.
In Germany, more than 90% of its farmers are members of the DBV. This is an amazing membership rate! Total membership is around 325,000. The DBV has offices in Berlin and in Brussells. Much like the Amercian Farm Bureau Federation, the DBV is composed of 18 State organizations (there are 16 German states, and certain states have dual organizations). Farmer members direct the work of the organization, and professional staff carry out the duties of the association. The DBV was founded in 1948 and exists to represent the agricultural, economical, legal, fiscal, environmental, social, educational, and socio-political interests of farmers. Germany is a leading producer in the EU of canola, potatoes, milk, pork, beef, and eggs.
The DBV is, in turn, a member of COPA, which is the agricultural organization for the EU. COPA has 85 members from the 27 EU states and non-member European countries. Some of these countries have multiple national farm associations, such as Italy which has 4. The Green Party has initiated an effort to start a rival organization to the DBV in Germany. (As you can imagine, I was not surprised to learn it was the Greens!) Thus, while Germany as a nation has influence at the EU on agricultural policy, it is important to remember that policy decisions that impact farmers are made primarily at the EU level. The German department of agriculture serves to implement these decisions.
The European Union was created in 1957 with six nations: Germany, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Italy. There are now 27 member states, 500 million citizens, and 22(!) official languages. This means all official documents of the EU must be translated 22 times -- amazing! There is one single market amongst these 27 states for the free movement of goods and services. Only 16 of the member states, however, use the common currency of the Euro. Beyond this, while those 16 members are part of the Euro zone, their individual national governments set their own financial policy . . . thus leading to the current situation where Germany is faced with bailing out the Greek government in its financial debacle to maintain the stability of the Euro.
The three key institutions of the EU are the Council of Ministers (which represent the member states), the European Parliament (designed as the voice of the people), and the Commission (which carries out the work of the EU). EU policies largely are crafted as the result of huge compromises between member states to achieve action. Even with these pieces of legislation, there are still major difference in how nations implement them. For example, the EU set an end date for the use of hen cages in Europe. German implemented this several years early, but other countries (such as Poland) are delaying the implementation. Polish farmers purchased a lot of those German hen cages, and are now able to produce eggs at a lesser price . . . and then sell them in Germany!
With the founding of the EU in 1957, the Common Agricultural Policy was also inaugurated. The CAP focused on three areas: self-suffiency for main commodities, sustainable economic development in rural areas, and compensation to farmers for respecting high production standards. Currently, there are 19 provisions in place that farmers must follow in order to receive EU dollars. One example is the animal identification system, which requires that each animal have a passport and a specific form of tagging. Cattle must maintain matching tags in each ear. There is a 40 Euro fine if a cow does not have this, and there is no tolerance, no matter the reason. (I can't imagine keeping two ear tags in my goats' ears -- they lose them constantly!) These 19 standards are theroretically voluntary, but virtually all farmers participate under pressure to receive EU dollars. Between 2005 and 2009, 30-40% of the average farmers annual income was made up of subsidy payments!!!
The European Union member states view agriculture as crucial for their culture, economy, environment, and self-sufficiency. Thus, they are willing to dedicate public funds to achieve this. In return, farmers must agree to abide by the 19 standards identified in response to consumer discussion and public mandate. By keeping farmers prosperous, the goal is to keep rural communities prosperous. It ensures the presence of jobs & services for rural dwellers: such as postmasters, doctors, and teachers. Sustainability is regarded as a 3-legged stool: environmental, social, and economical. In the United States, there is a great deal of ambiguity regarding the word "sustainable". While I have always personally taken pride that I do not receive government payments -- and thus am not responsible to the government for my production -- I will openly applaud the EU for clarifying that if the government is to espouse certain practices, it must be able to define them!