Farm follies revisited

A row about milk quotas only confirms the idiocy of Europe's common agricultural policy AT LAST, say some European Union leaders, it is time for tough talk about the future of farming. Even the subsidy-mad French agree: a mid-term review of the common agricultural policy (CAP) is to begin during their stint in the EU's rotating presidency, later this year. It all sounds encouraging. Except for this: even as governments boast of tackling difficult reforms soon, France, Germany and others are trying to thwart an easy reform now that would let EU dairy farmers take advantage of soaring world prices. The row centres on the EU's milk quotas, which cap production in each country, with swingeing fines for producing too much. It offers a revealing, and depressing, case study. There may never be a less painful time to ease (or scrap) milk quotas. They were designed in 1984, when low market prices and high subsidies were filling EU warehouses with surplus "butter mountains' and mounds of milk powder, at ever greater cost to the EU budget. Liberal-minded types wondered naively if cutting subsidies might be an idea. They were outvoted by the farm lobby, which chose to curb production via quotas so as to boost prices. As an instrument, it was blunt