French government institute welcomes idea of a CAP supporting farmers’ jobs

"The basic payment system must evolve towards payments based on agricultural employment and no longer be based on the number of hectares cultivated," explained Gilles de Margerie, Commissioner General of France Stratégie. [Shutterstock]

In a report presented in Paris on 23 October, the government institution France Stratégie proposed to support employment in the agricultural sector rather than the amount of cultivated land. But for this to become reality, a complete overhaul of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy is needed. EURACTIV France reports.

France Stratégie, the institution of experts attached to the prime minister’s office, has published a report entitled “Making the CAP a lever for the agro-ecological transition” and presented its findings in Paris on Wednesday (23 October).

In light of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) being revamped for the 2021-2027 period, but with no significant changes having been proposed so far, the institution noted that the support system for European farmers is “out of breath” and called for increased focus on the employment situation of farmers.

“We wanted to think about what an ideal CAP would be,” explained the authors of the report. When it was first set up in the 1960s, the CAP aimed to increase European agricultural production and secure Europe’s food independence.

And it has been mostly successful in doing so, but, in the face of environmental and climate challenges, the CAP is currently struggling to provide the right answers.

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Lawmakers in the Parliament’s Agriculture Committee are increasingly doubtful that the post-2020 Common Agriculture Policy will be delivered on schedule, considering the delays in moving the reform forward, and want transitional regulation to ensure there are no interruptions.

And farmers have not been better off as a result, as 25% of French farmers live below the poverty line.

“Since the 1990s, environmental and climate issues have gradually been integrated into the CAP,” said Pierre Dupraz, the research director of France’s national institute of agricultural research (INRA).

“The instruments are not adapted,” he added.

From hectare to employment

To redirect aid towards ‘greening’ European agriculture and maintaining employment, France Stratégie’s report suggested basing farmers subsidies on employment aid, as opposed to measuring the funding allocated according to hectares of land cultivated, which is currently the case.

“The basic payment system must evolve towards payments based on agricultural employment and no longer be based on the number of hectares cultivated,” explained Gilles de Margerie, commissioner-general of France Stratégie.

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

Based on the aid paid in 2018 for direct payments (€5.7 billion) and the number of full-time equivalents in 2016 (711,000), the annual cheque for one full-time agricultural worker would thus have amounted to €8,000 that year.

‘Polluter pays’ principle

Another proposal is to recast the second pillar support system into a simplified bonus/penalty system. In other words, farmers could be taxed based on their use of fertilisers, pesticides, antibiotics and greenhouse gas emissions per the carbon tax principle.

On the other hand, they would be remunerated for their virtuous practices for the environment: permanent grasslands, crop diversification or the establishment of areas of ecological interest.

“These tools will make it possible to enhance the value of mixed livestock farming and agro-ecological farms, but also of small farms,” explained Julien Fosse, deputy director of France Stratégie’s sustainable and digital development department.

Despite the consensus that is starting to be built around the shift of the CAP towards supporting employment in the agricultural sector, there is still a long way to go.

“Today there is an awareness of the limits of the current system and the various players in the sector are ready to open the debate,” Gilles de Margerie said.

In Brussels, the debate on the future CAP should reopen after the new European Commission takes office on 1 December.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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