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23rd Oct 2021

Paris to host divisive meeting on future of EU farm policy

  • The commission is due to publish an ideas paper on farm policy reform in 2010 (Photo: European Commission)

Paris is set to host a divisive meeting on the future of the EU's common agricultural policy this Thursday (10 December), with five member states unlikely to attend.

The meeting of farm ministers from 22 EU states is designed to prepare a co-ordinated common position among countries that support a strong interventionist farming policy within the bloc.

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French agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire said candidly over the weekend that the aim was to "produce a battle plan to defend a strong common agriculture policy, to support a renewed CAP."

Thursday's get-together comes ahead of discussions on the EU's next financial period (2014-20), expected to kick off in earnest next year.

But the meeting looks set to increase tensions with more reformist states such as the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Malta, who support a greater liberalisation of the bloc's farm policy and are unlikely to travel to the French capital this week.

While the UK government is denying it had not been invited to the meeting, Mr Le Maire suggested on Monday that London would be "welcome to discuss its conclusions".

The two capitals on either side of the English Channel have already enjoyed a number of heated exchanges in recent days, following the appointment of former French agriculture minister Michel Barnier to the European Commission's internal market post.

The UK is concerned that Frenchman's takeover of the powerful portfolio – one that includes financial services – could usher in a new era of Gallic-style regulation and strangle activities in the City of London.

Comments made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy following the appointment did not serve to ease the friction, with the election-mode centre-right politician suggesting Britain had clearly been "out-manoeuvred" in the commission job carve-up.

CAP reform

This latest farming tit-for-tat comes after a controversial policy paper was leaked from the European Commission in October.

The document revealed plans to radically scale back funding for the EU's farm policy after the current budgetary period comes to an end in 2013.

The news was greeted by outcry in farming circles, with the EU's agriculture commissioner quickly dismissing the document as merely a "bunch of officials preparing their own view on the budget."

However, it is clear that both sides in the debate are sharpening their knives for the impending battle over where EU funds should be allocated in the future.

The EU's 2008 budget amounted to €129 billion, of which about €55 billion, or 45 percent, of the funding was devoted to agriculture.

The commission is due to publish an ideas paper on farm policy reform next year, followed by legislative proposals in 2011.

Speaking at a recent conference in the European Parliament, Professor Allan Buckwell of the Country Land and Business Association said around 35 percent of European farmers rely on their annual single farm payment from the EU just to survive.

But information on the payments - made available to the public online this year for the first time - showed large commercial agricultural business to be among the main beneficiaries.

As part of a deal on agricultural reform in December 2005, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair negotiated away roughly 20 per cent – or £7.2 billion (€8bn) – of the budget rebate Britain would have received from the EU over the current financial period (2007-13).

But critics, including the country's opposition Conservative party, say the promised scaling back of EU farm subsidies has not been forthcoming, and point to this Thursday's meeting as an indication of French ambitions for the policy.

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