French ‘reflection group’ on CAP reform raises eyebrows

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French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire has assembled a group made up of sixteen personalities, including chefs, writers and business people, to reflect on the future of Europe's agriculture policy. EURACTIV France reports.

Members of the group include Eric Fréchon, a chef at Le Bristol hotel in Paris, writer Erik Orsenna and other personalities who do not usually deal with agriculture.

It also includes a host of people from the business world such as Franck Riboud, CEO of food company Danone and René Carron, chairman of the Crédit Agricole bank. Jean-Pierre Jouyet, chairman of AMF, the French financial market regulator, was asked to propose new instruments to regulate agricultural markets.

The group will have to answer three questions: 'Why have agriculture in Europe? How can agriculture adapt to the needs of our time? What means should agriculture policy have?'

"When I meet farmers, they often say that Europe made a liberal choice. We still have to convince them of the strength of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)," said Le Maire when launching the group on 17 February.

He added that France was ready to lead the debate on CAP reform in Europe, starting by defining the policy's objectives. "Is somebody in this room able to define the goal of the CAP?" asked Le Maire. "Nobody knows," he said.

The main task of Dacian Ciolo?, the EU's new agriculture commissioner, will be to define the CAP's future after 2013, including its budgetary aspects. This was discussed briefly during Ciolo?'s confirmation hearing in the European Parliament, but many issues must still be debated (EURACTIV 18/01/10).

"Behind the question of agriculture is our capacity to innovate," said Le Maire, insisting that "innovation should be part of France's agricultural future".

However, trade unions and NGOs are not represented in the group. "What legitimacy does this Franco-French group have to discuss the future of agriculture in Europe?" asked Philippe Collin, spokesperson for the Confédération Paysanne, a trade union.

Le Maire brushed aside such criticism, saying: "I have too much respect for trade unions to sink them in this group."

Meanwhile, 15 NGOs last week formed another group, called 'PAC 2013', which will formulate six proposals for the future CAP (EURACTIV France 22/02/10).

In the absence of other EU nationalities, Le Maire said the group was intended to complement other fora in which the future of EU agriculture is discussed. "If I had included a German in this group, you would have asked me 'why a German and not a Brit' And if it were a Brit, you would have asked about the lack of Germans," he said.

The group will meet every month and each member is expected to make their contribution by June 2010.

The members of the group are:

Yannick Alleno (chef; Hotel Meurice), Jerôme Bédier (MEDEF; an employers' union), Christian de Boissieu (president, 'Conseil d'Analyse Economique'; attached to the French prime minister), René Carron (chairman; Crédit Agricole), Eric Fréchon (chef; Le Bristol hotel in Paris), Marion Guillou (president; French National Institute for Agricultural Research: Inra), Luc Guyau (chair; Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations: FAO), Jean-Pierre Jouyet (chairman; Autorité des Marchés Financiers), Christine Kelly (member; Conseil supérieur de l'Audiovisuel), Eric Le Boucher (managing editor; EnjeuxLes Echos), Bertrand Magnien (farmer), Erik Orsenna (writer), Michel Prugue (president; Maïsadour agricultural cooperative), Franck Riboud (CEO; Danone Group), Pascale Thomasson (farmer), and Nicolas Vanier (writer).

The EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was established in 1958 to subsidise farmers and encourage them to produce more to ensure stable supplies of affordable food.

After three reforms in 1992, 1999 and 2003, a CAP Health Check was launched in 2008. The Health Check aims to further modernise the policy and assess whether adjustments are needed to ensure that it is still able to face up to new challenges, such as climate change.

The EU 27 also agreed to further cut direct subsidies to farmers, diverting the cash to rural development policy, and to abolish milk production quotas (see EURACTIV LinksDossier).

2010 will see a debate on the CAP's future beyond 2013, in the context of a general review of the EU budget.

Recently, the EU commissioner in charge of the internal market, France's Michel Barnier, said Paris would make itself heard on all major upcoming reform, especially of farm policy (EURACTIV 02/12/09).

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