Make a living from market prices, Sarko tells farmers
U-turn on his country's anti-CAP stance, signalling that debate on
reforms will kick off during the French EU presidency in the second
half of 2008.
France has traditionally been one of the main flies in the ointment for reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and breaking down the wall of protectionism that has shielded European farmers for the last three decades - yet according to critics has distorted world trade and food prices. Europe's CAP bill came in at around €55bn in 2007, representing 44 per cent of the total EU budget. But speaking at a cattle fair in Rennes, Brittany, yesterday, the president reportedly said farmers had to be able to make a living out of higher market prices rather than subsidies. He said the CAP needed to be reformed after 2013, and that France would start discussing the issue next year. A reformed CAP, he said, had to meet four objectives: to ensure food security; to contribute to growing demand for food; to preserve rural economies and landscapes; and to help combat climate change. Sarkozy's own term of presidency ends in 2012, and he has not given any indication that he will put his weight behind wide-reaching reforms before that date. France previously agreed only reluctantly to a 'health check' of the CAP next year. However the budget for post-2013 is up for negotiation next year, so Sarkozy is at least taking on board the issues that will have to be faced down six years from now - whoever is at the helm of the country. France's ice-maiden image on reform may be starting to thaw, but Sarkozy did throw in some remarks to signal that he is not wholeheartedly switching course. He called European protectionism an "essential pillar" of the French economy, and said that restablishing the CAP on the principle of community preference would serve to stabilise markets in agricultural goods. The expectation is not that the level of spending on CAP would be reduced. Rather, part of the money would be channelled towards stabilising markets. He softened the message to French farmers, many of whom have feared for their interests in the hands of an urbanite, by saying: "Your values, which deeply nourish French society… I share to the highest degree". This is not the first time Sarkozy has expressed alliance with the farmers. Hopes that Sarkozy's stance on agriculture and trade would differ from that of his predecessor Jacques Chirac seemed scuppered when in May, shortly after his election, he said he would strongly uphold the interests of farmers and threatened to veto the Doha trade talks if a compromise did not suit them. An unsatisfactory compromise, in his book, would see Europe bending over backwards to accommodate the demands of developing countries at the expense of developed nations. With Doha negotiators set to meet again this month, Sarkozy said: "We cannot continue to impose on our farming enterprises environmental dumping, fiscal dumping and monetary dumping".