There’s a pleasant café inside the European Parliament which owing to the pastel-gone-mad shades of its furnishings is known as the Mickey Mouse Bar. ACTION has spent a lot of time there in recent weeks explaining its position on regional food reserves to the great and the good, i.e. MEPs and their assistants.
It needed two essential props for the task. One was a red scarf, to ensure that the people we were meeting knew how to recognise us. The second was a simple illustration of the laws of supply and demand which came in the form of a wooden display with scales and an arrow that could be unpacked from a suitcase and then screwed into one piece in the café (goodness knows what the scanner made of this as we passed through security). Though it is arguable that our point could have been made without the display, it is always good to have something concrete to be remembered by. Even if we end up as ‘those people who came with a strange box of tricks’, that will mean we are not forgotten.
We are now in our second year of applying to the Parliament for a pilot project. Last year things went well until the final hurdle – four MEPs, one each from the major political parties, backed our proposal, which went forward to the Commission who awarded it a ‘B’ (this is excellent for a new project), but when it went back to the Parliament for a final vote in Budget committee we didn’t quite make it. However, this year we have managed to talk to many more MEPs (inside and outside the Mickey Mouse Bar) and so are hopeful of being able to cross that final hurdle in Budget Committee.
Having to make your case on several different occasions amidst multi-coloured furnishings helps to clarify and simplify what is essentially a straightforward pilot project proposal. We want to be able to make sure that price volatility is kept to a minimum, and believe a regional food reserve that can be tapped into when there is a poor harvest or a flood is the best way of doing so. When times are bad member states will apply for the release of food from the reserve. This will increase the supply and so bring prices down. Since the extra food released onto the reserve will be sold, not given away, it will raise revenue that can be used to buy stocks when there is a good harvest in order to replenish the reserve. A policy of buying during the ‘good times’ helps to prevent the price from going too low and therefore making it unprofitable for farmers to continue farming. Hence volatility is avoided at both ends – prices neither get too high for the consumers to handle nor too low for the farmers to handle.
Moreover by buying to replenish the reserve when prices are low, the Community managing the reserve will actually make a profit and be able to go some way towards covering its running costs (eg storage costs). Once it is set up, in other words, this is a system that can be (or can come close to being) self-financing. But it also needs to be properly managed and free of corruption, which is why ACTION proposes a regional food reserve run on supranational lines by a Community for Food Reserves, using a system of governance that has worked well in the European Union for the past sixty years.
Not the easiest argument to put across to busy officials inside a few minutes.
But not a Mickey Mouse idea either.
Mark Corner, President of ACTION for Food Reserves