Stanley's blog

A taste of things to come

President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to the French Agricultural Show in Paris on 23 February was far more eventful than expected. This is not the place to compete with YouTube’s video clip of his extraordinary conversation with a visitor who refused to shake his hand.

On the WTO trade negotiations, the French President brought up CAP reform in his opening speech and threatened not to sign any WTO agreement which “sacrifices the interests of French agriculture… We cannot continue to impose on our farming industry environmental dumping, social dumping, fiscal dumping, monetary dumping”. He said of developing countries: “they have not only rights but also responsibilities”.

EU Agriculture Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, also in Paris, recognised that European agriculture will not benefit from a WTO accord, but pleaded for a balanced agreement which can benefit the EU 27’s industrial products and services.

Sarkozy emphasised his wish to benefit from the French Presidency in the second half of 2008, going further than the Commission’s «bilan de santé» of the CAP and giving it a “new coherence”from 2009, round four axes: food safety, participation in équilibres alimentaires mondiaux, environment et équilibre des territoires. Fischer Boel commented that the guiding ideas of the “bilan de santé” are coherent with the French President’s ideas.

However, all four axes are capable of different interpretations. Most importantly, we must recognise that the EU needs no longer supplement the income of well-to-do farmers. We need to help the new Member States to become more productive, tiny holdings should be consolidated and rural populations reduced. Europe has the opportunity substantially to increase its exports of food products. Two other issues need special attention: biofuels and GMOs.

The next stage is the Commission’s definitive communication of 20 May next on the sur le bilan. Sarkozy, for his part,has already promised to engage the French Presidency in a “refondation” of the CAP.

Expect more positioning between now and July and some interesting encounters during the French Presidency.

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