N. 48 June 2008 | The green revolution, the food crisis and Europe’s failed choices

This spring's food crisis shows how urgent it is to promote a different agricultual policy in every continent, in order to guarantee a sufficient amount of food to a world that's facing a constant demographic growth. Divided as it is in several sovereign states, Europe isn't ready to fulfill this task.

The world, more and more, is hostage to global uncertainty. The governments appear helpless in the face of the increasingly frequent, numerous and interwoven crises that they themselves, as in the case of the food-for-oil policies introduced by some states, continue to create.

It is not Nature’s fault that the problem of hunger in the world has grown more acute in recent months. Nor is it up to Nature alone to produce all the food now needed to feed the world. As OECD estimates confirm, it is the policies currently pursued by the states that will prevent food surpluses over the next five years from increasing by more than 0.3%: too little to save mankind from new food crises. Added to this, demand is set to rise and in some key regions of the world, the vagaries of the climate threaten the production of wheat, corn and rice.

Paradoxically, the primary importance of guaranteeing food at stable prices was appreciated more at the height of the Cold War, when the USA, in order to preserve international security, was at pains to avoid interfering with the fragile food sector. Today, on the other hand, it is because of the United States and other Western countries that the agricultural commodity market has been thrown so off-balance by the exploitation of farming land for the production of biofuels, an exploitation that has absorbed sixty per cent of the increase in agricultural production over the past three years and that, again according to the OECD, is not destined to drop below forty per cent of the production gain, unless there is a change in the agricultural policies of the USA, Brazil and the EU. All this in a framework in which the growth rate of agricultural production has halved since 1980 and in which international aid for the development of agricultural and food production, in the same period, has fallen from seventeen per cent to the current level of approximately three per cent of the overall total of aid itself.

It goes without saying that what is needed, in order to provide enough food for a continuously increasing global population, is a new Green Revolution and a new agricultural policy in all the continents of the world. Today, instead, we see only increasingly aggressive international competition for natural resources, raw materials and agricultural products which the non government of the world is rendering increasingly scare.

In the face of all this, the Europeans either remain passive or contribute to rash choices destined to aggravate the tensions on the markets, and even to backfire on them, like the decision to join the USA in its determination to replace, within a decade, ten per cent of fossil fuel consumption with biofuels. It is, in fact, quite obvious that European agriculture simply does not have the capacity to produce all the biofuel envisaged by the EU plans. Thus, in order to respect their undertakings, the EU countries will be forced to import ethanol produced from US corn and from Brazilian sugar cane, thereby making a mockery of the plans to reduce the EU’s energy dependence! The harsh truth is that whereas for both the US and Brazil the decision to become global leaders in the production of biofuels is part of a strategy that is risky for the rest of the world but coherent with the raison d’état of each of these two large countries, this policy is, for the Europeans, an umpteenth miscalculation: the fruit of compromise between increasingly contradictory and heterogeneous national policies, the policies of countries that no longer share either a common interest or a continental strategy as regards the role and future of Europe’s agricultural policy and the development of its energy policy.

Unfortunately, it is not likely to be the last such error of judgement, given that the Europeans delude themselves that they can tackle the new crises that arise through forms of cooperation that leave intact the sovereignty of the states in the crucial areas of foreign policy, defence and economic policy.

From this point of view, the recent expert report (L’Europe dans la mondialisation: état des lieux) commissioned by the French government in the run-up to its six-monthpresidency of the European Union emerges as emblematic. According to the report, all Europe needs to do in order to respond to today’s challenges is equip itself with stronger governance among small groups of countries in several key areas, in relation to which the common interests would, in each instance, pragmatically be identified. The critical mass, in demographic, economic and production terms, that the European Union has reached as a result of the process of enlargement would take care of the rest. Obviously, a system of this kind could never succeed: proper responses to the global challenges presuppose, first of all, a general vision within which to work out the single policies. To go on proceeding on a sectorial basis, effectively retaining in the ambit of groups of cooperating states the same method today used within the EU, would preclude the development of precisely that overall, coherent strategy that Europe currently lacks, a strategy possible only in the ambit of a genuinely European system of government, equipped with real powers and legitimated by the consensus of the citizens.

This is why, now, the only real common interest of the European countries, and of France and Germany first and foremost, is their fusion in a federal state. What is more, it is worth remembering that in the first half of the twentieth century, the British Commonwealth, in spite of its demographic weight – it accounted for a third of the world’s population, equal to the weight of China at the time –, and despite the fact that its economic and commercial influence was greater than those of the world’s other states, found itself in the space of just a few decades reduced to nothing more than an empty vessel, precisely because it was not a state.

Today, a federal core built around France and Germany and some of the other founding countries would, from the outset, have a population greater than that of Russia or Japan, in other words, greater than that of two players recognised to influence the global equilibrium. It would be the credible framework of government of an area that constitutes the world’s most developed economy and is the crossroads of trade between the North and South and East and West of the world. Furthermore, this initial federal core, open to all the other European countries that should agree to become part of it, would not be destined to retain its original configuration for long, but would rapidly expand, increasing its influence on the international stage.

Nothing and no one, bar the Europeans’ current indolence, can prevent the development of this project.

But it is up to France and Germany, in the first place, to decide urgently whether they want to create a European federal state equipped with the means and institutions to govern policies that will serve both the Europe and the world, or whether they instead prefer to run the risk, increasingly imminent, of being forced to suffer the consequences of growing international anarchy.


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