French farmers divided over CAP redistribution

Preventing the coronavirus pandemic from morphing into a food security crisis is increasingly the focus of policy-makers.

Grain farmers and cattle breeders are staging protests today (31 March) against a French plan to redistribute monies from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). EURACTIV France reports.

The 63rd congress of FNSEA, the largest agricultural union in France, opens today (31 March) in Poitiers, at the city’s Futuroscope, a theme park dedicated to science and technology.

But French farmers will have little time for leisure as the congress opens. Several thousand of them, mostly grain farmers, demonstrated last week in Paris to protest against a French plan to redistribute monies from the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Under the plan, outlined on 23 February by French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, around 1.4 billion euro should be redistributed from 2010 to agricultural sectors in difficulty, such as breeding (euractiv.fr 24/02/09)

But these measures divide farmers.

Barnier’s plans, which stem directly from an EU-wide CAP health check agreed last year under the French EU Presidency, centres on three measures. The first, so-called modulation, involves the transfer of funds from the CAP’s first pillar (direct payments) to the second pillar (rural development).

This rebalancing will start applying in 2009, with a compulsory increase of 2% in modulation payments. According to the EU decision, “the rate will be set at 1% in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and 5% in 2013. Over four years, this represents 945 million euros,” Barnier recently told CSO, the French national council for agriculture and food.

Second, Paris will introduce a series of targeted aid, under Article 68 of the CAP Health Check, which allows lifting levies on the first pillar to assist farmers requiring specific support. 135 million euros will be allocated to areas of sheep and goats, 45 million to milk producers in mountainous regions, eight million to producers of durum wheat in traditional areas and 4.6 million for breeding calves under the mother.

Article 68 will also enable France to support “sustainable” systems, such as organic farming and the production of plant proteins.

This article may also be used to support risk management measures: 100 million will be devoted to deploying crop insurance schemes and 40 million will be used to establish a “health fund” to compensate the health consequences of incidents on livestock and plant production.

Farmers deplore lack of moderation

But many farmers condemn a lack of moderation in the measures. “A balance of up to 15% is quite acceptable,” French MP Philippe Vigier told EURACTIV France (EurActif.fr 30/03/09). “But the measures announced shift direct aid of at least 22% or even 33%. This is not acceptable,” he said.

According to official statistics, grain farmers earned in 2008 an average income of €30,000, twice more than cattle farmers and almost four times more than sheep farmers. Moreover, grain farmers receive two thirds of European aid, or around €8.5 billion euro.

In a study, Vincent Chatellier and Hervé Guyomard, two experts at INRA, the French national institute for agricultural research, analyse the consequences of the planned measures. According to them, the reform would involve a “significant redistribution” of aid, which clearly favours grassland farms at the expense of grain farms.

According to the economists, direct support to grain farmers will decrease on average by €5,900, or 16% of all French CAP funds distributed in 2007. This is equivalent to a 17% reduction in income over five years (from 2003 to 2007). Goat and sheep farmers, on the other hand, should see an increase in direct aid of €7,800 per farm, or 29% more than in 2007. Their income should grow by 43% over the five-year average.

France is the largest exporter of cereals in Europe. It is also the largest recipient of CAP funds, with 10 billion euro per year.

CAP simplification

Mariann Fischer-Boel, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural development, presented on 18 March a new communication on the “enormous progress” made to simplify the CAP since 2005 (euractiv.fr 19/03/09).

“Since we launched our campaign in October 2005, we have done all we can to make our policy less bureaucratic and easier to use,” she said during a press conference on 18 March.

The Commission has been working since the 1990s to reduce the excessive bureaucracy for farmers and national administrations of 27 member states generated by the CAP. For example, almost 300 obsolete acts were eliminated in 2006 and 2007. As part of the reform of the fruit and vegetable sector, the Commission also reduced the number of specific marketing standards from 36 to 10, rationalised the associated checking operations and established a general marketing standard covering most fruit and vegetables.

“CAP simplification creates business conditions in which farmers and other economic operators are less burdened by administrative and compliance costs and renders the European farming community more competitive,” states the Commission.

“CAP simplification forms an integral part of the Commission’s overall strategy on better regulation,” added Fischer-Boel, who thinks that “one can realistically expect the objective of a 25% reduction of administrative burden in 2012 to be met”. 

The European Commission presented its proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), also known as the CAP Health Check, in November 2007.

On 20 November 2008, EU agriculture ministers reached a political agreement on the Health Check of the Common Agricultural Policy. The Health Check will modernise, simplify and streamline the CAP and remove restrictions on farmers, thus helping them to respond better to signals from the market and to face new challenges.

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