Eric Andrieu: ‘Agricultural aid helps the biggest companies’

Eric Andrieu [European Parliament]

The French lawmaker believes that the European Commission’s response to the farming crisis will penalise small farmers, and help big business, without solving the problem.

Eric Andrieu is a Socialist MEP and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

Andrieu spoke to Aline Robert, the Editor-in-Chief of EURACTIV France. 

What do you think of the emergency aid released by the EU in September?

We obtained a package of €500 million, but many of our demands were not taken up. And the distribution of this aid reflects the very liberal vision of the Commission, and Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan. A large proportion of it will pay for the private stockpiling of milk and pork. They hope that funding big suppliers to stockpile food will allow prices to rise again. But it is only the suppliers that will benefit from this measure. Farmers don’t have the storage capacity.

Why is this not a satisfactory response?

Commissioner Hogan believes the market will resolve everything. But when you look at the split between farmers and the food industry, it is obvious that this is not the case. This model is not satisfactory. It helps the biggest companies, including the big cooperatives, while small farmers get nothing.

What other solutions would have been possible?

We asked for the renegotiation of the Russian sanitary embargo on pork. There is no reason why this embargo should continue, because the problem has been contained. But the Commission chose not to do it for political reasons.

We also asked them to raise the intervention price, which is the only way to push up milk prices. Besides a small number of farmers with very big businesses, the current price of milk is not profitable for most farmers.

So it is a question of political choices?

Yes it is. We need to re-politicise agricultural policy. And also think about the farmers’ professional organisations. Are they doing their best to represent their members today? Aren’t the biggest players over-represented? The food industry is happy with agricultural policy, but small businesses are not.

Do we really want a model like the Danish one, where a small number of farmers manage enormous businesses and use large quantities of pesticides? I don’t think so.

How can all 28 EU countries reach a consensus on this subject?

It’s true that there are disagreements between the new EU members in the East and the countries that have more experience of agricultural policy. But overall, I think we have to think about a support mechanism to break the cycle. It is useless to keep paying aid on a permanent basis when the prices are higher. That favours the biggest companies and high volume production. Today farmers are asking for higher prices, not volume.

The Commission says it wants to make up for the closure of the Russian market by opening new export markets…

The Commission said it would open new markets in Asia, and a communication budget has been set aside for this in the aid it released. But that makes no sense. We don’t want to sell off our products cheaply on the other side of the world. We should be encouraging Europeans to consume good quality local products. The international market is the source of our problems and the volatility of prices. We should be protecting ourselves from it.

Do you think that the measures undertaken by the Commission will help solve the problems of European agriculture?

These measures will ultimately not be enough. I think we need to end this denial of reality in agricultural policy. Are we not already failing on European agricultural policy? Is food quality really high enough in Europe? Is there enough protection for the environment, soil and water quality? It is time to think about a different model. 

At close to €60 billion per year, the budget of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) represents almost 40% of the EU annual expenditure of €130 billion.

The European Commission presented its budget proposal for the period 2014-2020 in June 2011. Funding for agriculture remains relatively unchanged, although slight reductions to the budget will be progressively introduced.

One of the main challenges of CAP reform lies in progressively transferring existing subsidies to the new member states of Central and Eastern Europe without raising the policy's total budget.

>>Read our LinksDossier: CAP 2014-2020: A long road to reform

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