Paris seeks alliance to protect EU’s farming budget

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (C), flanked by Agriculture Minister Stephane Travert (2-L), touches a cow as he visits the Paris International Agricultural Show (Salon de l'Agriculture) in Paris, France, 27 February 2018. [EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON]

The French agriculture minister wants to set up an alliance with other agricultural countries to avoid a 5% cut in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding envisaged in the EU’s 2021-2027 budget proposal. EURACTIV.fr reports.

The recent budget proposal has kept France on its feet with some heated reactions to the  proposed cut in CAP funding.

“It was the same thing, during the last budget proposal,” an EU official quipped.

Indeed, the last time around, then president François Hollande fought tooth and nail to keep a share of direct aid payments to farmers that came under threat in the 2014-2020 budget.

Now that the European Commission published its budget proposal for the 2021-2027 period, history is repeating itself.

“We can’t go from €408 billion to €364 billion… this isn’t right at a time when we are asking for more from our farmers,” Agriculture Minister Stéphane Travert said on 3 May, when he met with his Irish counterpart, Michael Creed.

The two joined the Spanish and Portuguese ministers of agriculture to try to form an alliance of countries against the decline in the share of aid to farmers.

Cuts in the CAP: 'unacceptable' for France

The EU’s budget proposal for 2020-2027 is mostly in line with France’s ambition for Europe: it maintains means and increases its priorities. However, the proposed slight cut in the CAP did not go down well. EURACTIV.fr reports.

Other large agricultural states such as Poland, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria could potentially join the alliance. On the other hand, northern European countries and Germany might go against the project as they had called for renationalising part of the CAP, and mostly wanted to see the European budget reduced.

The European Commission, as well as other EU member states, had long called for a fundamental rethinking of the CAP: capping aid for larger farms, developing crop insurance tools which could notably reduce the overall cost without affecting farmer’s incomes.

Other actors in France, such as the INRA, a public research institute on agricultural science, believe that the CAP should innovate.

“Transformative capacity is lacking and has to be enhanced, not only through technology but also by working on societal challenges through dialogue with society and contributing to government policy and legislation,” stated the INRA, which recently published with Wageningen University &Research a policy brief on innovation and the CAP.

Political risks

But the struggle for the status quo in which France got involved also carries political risks one year before the European elections. A prolonged conflict on the CAP budget can only strengthen the far-right, with Marine Le Pen’s Front National looking to reap the potential gains in terms of parliamentary seats in Strasbourg.

The FN has already sought to take advantage of the budget discussion, saying the EU had “favoured foreigners” by proposing to cut the CAP budget and condition the allocation of European funds on the respect of the rule of law, a proposal aimed at Hungary and Poland.

“The EU will financially sanction Hungary and Poland which refuse to welcome migrants. What a beautiful parallel: sanctioning Europeans and favouring foreigners!” said Marie Christine Arnautu, a French MEP from the Front National.

Hungary blasts Commission over EU funding 'blackmail' plan

Hungary said Thursday (3 May) that a European Union plan to link the bloc’s funding payouts to respect for the rule of law amounted to “blackmail”, a day after Brussels unveiled its first post-Brexit multi-year budget plan.

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