Phil Hogan, the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, attended the Paris International Agriculture Show on Thursday (2 March), to reassure French farmers that the EU executive is fighting their corner. Hogan spoke to EURACTIV’s partner Ouest-France reports.
What do you say to milk producers who have been bogged down in crisis for the last two years?
Firstly I would like to express my sympathy with French farmers for the loss of Xavier Beulin. I knew him well and he was a great union leader. I went to his funeral in Orleans.
As far as milk is concerned, the Union has tried to balance supply and demand by buying up stocks. What is more, it has allocated a further €1 billion in aid to help producers overcome the crisis and reduce their production. Some states, like France, have added significant national resources. We saw milk prices pick up by 15% in France over the last six months and by 29% across Europe on average.
Do you want to help farmers negotiate good prices?
Yes, this crisis shows that we have to help producers to gain the most out of their negotiations with the food processers to ensure they get a good price. And I would make proposals in this direction, inspired by the conclusions of the working group I established last year. There are currently 20 member states applying measures to help the milk sector. That means there is a problem at European level.
What do Europe and France have to fear from Brexit?
Brexit will create uncertainties in our trade relationships that we would have preferred not to have to deal with, at least until we manage to strike a new deal with the United Kingdom. Whatever comes of it, we will continue our efforts to negotiate other deals around the world to benefit exporters in the other 27 member states.
Which countries will you target?
We will deepen our discussions with Iran, the Gulf States and the Far East. And we hope to conclude free trade agreements with Japan and Mexico this year. I must stress that European exports of agricultural products generate a trade surplus of €130bn, of which French agriculture, including the wine sector, is responsible for €15bn. This proves that we are competitive and attractive. It is worth noting that each billion euros of exports creates 20,000 jobs. A recent study by the Copenhagen Institute proves that the EU’s agricultural exports are job creators. Marine Le Pen’s claims to the contrary are false.
Should we fear a budget cut for the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for 2020-2025?
A recent survey found that 70% of French people see agricultural and rural aid as a positive thing and that 72% of the population wants to buy high quality food products. Public opinion has an effect on agricultural financing but we have to learn from our mistakes.
How do we do this?
Mainly by helping farmers use new tools to deal with price volatility and health crises better. We also have to better integrate agriculture into our climate change commitments. We need to encourage more Europeans to work in agriculture. And finally, EU policy needs to be simplified. For me it is unacceptable that a policy should be so complex.
But the budget?
That will depend on the heads of state. We will have to take into account the loss of €9bn linked to the exit of the United Kingdom, which is currently a net contributor. But this is not the case for British agriculture, which makes a net gain of €3bn per year in EU payments. We now know that, contrary to what the government told farmers, the UK budget will not step in to fill this gap after Brexit. Le Pen should not try to make French farmers believe that they could possibly profit from a similar scenario.
What do we have to fear from the isolationism promoted by Donald Trump?
The election of Donald Trump is a huge opportunity for Europe. We should focus our efforts on the East; we are not obliged always to depend on the West. Asia is a market of 2.7bn consumers. If Trump wants protectionism, so much the better. This will leave opportunities open for European products.