Éric Andrieu: ‘The CAP has been disastrous for jobs’

Éric Andrieu believes future subsidies should be reserved for small farms that create more jobs and pollute less. [European Parliament]

This article is part of our special report Growth and jobs: Where does the CAP stand?.

A European Parliament report has called on the EU to target subsidies at small and medium-sized businesses, and promote short supply chains and organic food to boost employment in the agricultural sector. EURACTIV France reports.

Éric Andrieu’s report on how the CAP can improve job creation in rural areas will be voted on by MEPs in Strasbourg on Thursday (27 October). The text calls for adequate funding to be maintained, but more efficiently distributed, to support rural employment.

Éric Andrieu is a French Socialist MEP and member of the European Parliament’s agriculture and international trade committees.

Why did you examine the link between the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and employment?

The EU dedicates 40% of its budget to agriculture. They say the Juncker Commission wants to promote employment, that it is their priority. But nobody has ever worried about the link between the CAP and jobs. Yet this relationship has been fairly disastrous.By encouraging intensified production for export, we have concentrated agriculture instead of thinking about land planning.

Does this mean that the CAP destroys jobs?

In 1962, 20% of Europeans worked in agriculture. Now the figure is below 4%. So yes, we have pushed a public policy that has destroyed farming jobs. Was this the objective? Of course not.

We focused on the competitiveness of our exports, encouraging different specialities in each country, cereals in France, pork in Germany, etc. But today we have to ask ourselves what kind of agriculture we want for tomorrow, choose an objective, make a plan. For now, there is no plan because nobody can agree on which objective to aim for.

Will the pace of job destruction in agriculture increase?

It all depends on future policies. But if we continue like this, seeing as only 6% of Europe’s farmers are under 35, soon there will be none left at all. Simple as that.

What does the EU do for young farmers?

Each country is free to choose its own policy to encourage young people. They can allocate a proportion of the CAP funding to help young people start out in farming, buying land and training, for example. It has become impossible to get into the profession without help.

But not all countries do this. Young people often stop farming within three years of beginning, because financially, they just cannot manage.

You are very critical of the current CAP, which leaves nobody satisfied. Not the farmers or the consumers. Is it not a taboo in Brussels to question this pillar of the European construction?

It is, but the debate has to take place. And we, the politicians, must answer the question of what future we want for European farming. I have noticed that the oldest members of the European Parliament do not want to change anything. The recent arrivals, on the other hand, see that the system does not work and can’t wait for it to change.

What is the view of the farmers’ unions?

When I ask them what their objectives are, they say it is better to avoid the subject altogether, because nobody can agree. This is not acceptable. We give them monstrous budget packages, the least they could do in return is to know what they want to do with them.

What objectives should we set to encourage job creation in agriculture?

I think we need to think in terms of land. And stop creating competition between European states. A greater focus on the local level, with short supply chains and sustainable production, and a stronger link between public subsidies and job creation, would fulfill many important requirements such as land planning, product quality, farmers’ pay, the environment.

Mechanisation has contributed to the loss of jobs. Should we be wary of modernising European agriculture?

No, of course not.  But we have to train people and develop local networks to create jobs in the processing and sale of products, for example.

Digitisation can help farmers climb the value chain by putting them in contact with consumers. This should be encouraged.

Which farmers should we help as a matter of priority?

I think we should concentrate on one part of the farming sector, the small and medium-sized businesses. They are the most resilient, the most environmentally efficient and the creators of jobs. So this would mean removing the biggest 3% of agricultural businesses from the CAP. They own 50% of EU farmland, but do not create jobs and generate a lot of pollution.

79% of farms are SMEs, so by targeting them, we will reach the largest possible number of farmers. The smallest are currently looked after by local authorities or social services. It is very common in rural Ariège [in the Pyrenees] or Romania for subsistance farmers to have just three cows and a few chickens.

The liberals of the agri-food business may not appreciate your idea…

Agricultural markets have to be organised. This sector proves that liberalisation does not work. We have stable, slightly rising demand, while climatic risks have made supply into a real roller coaster ride.

In the European Parliament, apart from the liberals, who do not want to hear about regulation, and certain Germans, who also dogmatically protect their own big businesses, this idea has resonated with most groups.

The agri-food business tries to make us believe that short supply chains and organic, local food are niche markets. Their lobbyists have brought this view into the mainstream. But it is not true. If policy encourages a niche market, it will grow.

The National Front often criticises the CAP, calling instead for a French agricultural policy…

The National Front claims we could leave the EU, close our borders, refuse to import and continue to export our good but this is impossible. If we close our borders, our trading partners will respond in kind. So on top of a devalued franc, which will be worth next to nothing, we will be unable to sell abroad.

This cannot be taken seriously. But the agricultural crisis is a serious matter. A farmer commits suicide every other day in France. It is unacceptable to treat this subject lightly.

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