France wants to ensure more young people benefit from CAP payments

“No longer losing any farmers should be a European goal,” says Jérémy Decerle, a French centrist MEP from Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party. [Shutterstock]

Paris believes an age limit for receiving aid from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) would make room for young people in the farming sector. But Brussels does not see it that way, saying this would amount to age discrimination. EURACTIV France reports.

In France, less than 5% of all farmers are under the age of 35, and the number of young people ready to take over the family farm or to launch themselves in the profession currently fail to compensate for those who retire.

Farmers in Europe are ageing, and France is affected as much as any other country.

“No longer losing any farmers should be a European goal,” says Jérémy Decerle, a French centrist MEP from Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche (LREM) party.

Decerle is well-positioned to speak on the matter. A former president of a young farmer’s association, the Federation des Jeune Agriculteurs, he has seen the farmer’s population in his country ageing inexorably. And the issue does not receive enough attention at EU level, he says.

“Since the beginning of my mandate, I can’t say that the topic of generational renewal is a matter of concern,” he told a roundtable event in Paris, organised by EURACTIV on 28 January. “However, only 5% of European farmers are under 35 years old, which is a figure that should be seen as a warning!,” the MEP said.

At the same time, the European Green Deal and its “farm-to-fork” food strategy has renewed hopes for new approach to agricultural issues.

“It would be important to include the issue of maintaining European agriculture and farmers in the food strategy of the Green Deal,” Decerle said.

Time to sow: Planting the seeds for the future of EU's agriculture

The expected showdown about the EU’s post-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the development of the bloc’s new food strategy could set a cornerstone in the process of shaping Europe’s agriculture in the decades to come.

The EU is also in the process of preparing a new version of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which should enter into force before 2022 and already includes stronger measures for young farmers.

“The issue of helping young farmers establish themselves is a priority for the European Commission,” said Maria Fuentes Merino, a European Commission official in charge of rural development policies in France.

The future CAP includes provisions such as raising the ceiling for start-up aid from €70,000 to €100,000, she indicated.

“The most innovative of these measures is the guarantee that 2% of national payments will be earmarked for young farmers, through simplified provisions,” Merino explained.

But some believe these thresholds could be raised even further. “The subject of generational renewal in agriculture must be taken to the European level,” said the president of Young Farmers, Samuel Vandaele.

“Raising the threshold for national payments to young farmers from 2% to 4% would show real ambition,” he insisted.

Generational renewal in agriculture

More than 31% of all farms in the EU are run by farmers older than 65, whilst young farmers represent only 6% of European agricultural community. Reversing this trend is one of the toughest challenges for the main EU farming policy.

In France, the issue of young farmers establishing themselves in the farming business is exacerbated by many factors such as land prices, the low attractiveness of the profession and the difficulty in transferring farms.

The issue of pensions, which has shaken the country in recent months, is also plaguing this renewal of agricultural generations.

“In 2026, 45% of French farmers will have reached the legal retirement age,” warned Claire Brennetot of the agriculture ministry.

However, this generation does not always leave room for the next, as many farmers prefer to keep their land and CAP subsidies rather than switch to low-paying retirement schemes.

This retention of agricultural land is becoming problematic in France.

“It is true that the pension system is being discussed in France, but there is also a question to ask about the age limit for receiving CAP subsidies,” according to Brennetot.

Although France has tried to bring the issue of a “retirement” age for CAP beneficiaries at the European level, the European Commission has rejected it.

According to Brussels, excluding farmers above a certain age from European aid amounts to discrimination.

France is also considering to give farmers beyond the age of 40 a ‘so-called’ installation aid, as they would have surpassed the age limit set in the CAP for “young farmers”.

Young people and women in EU farming

The EU farming sector is faced with an ageing population. In 2016 only 11% of farm managers in the EU were young farmers under the age of 40 years, according to Eurostat.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

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