European farm policy should focus on ensuring viable prices for farmers threatened by volatile markets and falling incomes, French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire said in an interview with Reuters Feb. 17.
The European Union’s largest farm economy was determined to have strong regulations to support its farmers, but would be open-minded in upcoming talks on EU farm policy, especially in view of Germany’s new coalition government, Le Maire said.
The EU’s 27 members will start discussing this year the future form of the bloc’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which claims 40 per cent of the EU budget.
France is the main beneficiary of the CAP, taking some 20 per cent of the bloc’s 40-billion euro farm budget in 2009.
Paris used a crisis in Europe’s dairy sector last year to gather support for agricultural market regulation, culminating in a call in December by 22 EU members for an “ambitious” new CAP.
The talks on renewing the EU’s farm policy are expected to pitch countries like France, who favour regulatory measures backed up by a large budget, against other members like Britain and the Netherlands who have traditionally sought a slimmed-down budget with a phasing out of so-called single-farm payments.
“We will defend the idea of a market regulation as a precondition for discussions, because we firmly believe in it,” Le Maire said.
“The key question is prices,” he said. “I don’t know a single farm producer, whether in milk, grains or fruit and vegetables, who is not faced with this basic difficulty of having a sale price that is below the cost price.”
French farmers staged mass protests last year in response to falling revenues across the farm sector in what Le Maire has referred to as the worst crisis in 30 years for agriculture.
France’s negotiating task in EU farm policy could be made tougher by a more free-market tone in the new government in Germany, plus the likely election of an EU-sceptical Conservative government in Britain.
Asked about genetically modified (GM) crops, Le Maire said the bloc must have harmonized rules.
“Nothing would be worse for Europe than to have a European farm sector with different speeds where everyone establishes their own rules and norms.”