Macron’s views on the Common Agricultural Policy

President Emmanuel Macron laid out his vision for Europe in a major speech at the Sorbonne yesterday. This speech was billed as an Initiative for Europe and set out the President’s ambitions in a range of areas – defence, counter-intelligence, asylum and migration policy, an external policy focused on Africa and the Mediterranean, a sustainable development agenda (including ideas for a more flexible CAP), addressing the challenges of the digital economy, reforms of the eurozone, and institutional reform. He proposed that each Member State that signs up to this agenda (recognising that not all will want to) should organise a citizen’s dialogue in the coming months with a view to feeding into a new “group for overhauling Europe” which would be tasked to produce a report by Summer 2018 on measures to implement these ambitions.

The full speech (in French) is here, with the official English summary here.

There is much to get to grips with in this speech. In this post I concentrate solely on what President Macron said about the CAP. In the English summary, this is reported as

[Europe] needs to ensure its food sovereignty, by reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and establishing a common inspection force to guarantee food safety for Europeans.

The full version of his comments, in French, on food and agricultural policy are as follows. Below, I have reproduced my rough translation (suggested improvements welcome!).

Une Europe qui garantit notre vision exigeante du développement durable, c’est aussi une Europe de la sécurité et de la souveraineté alimentaires et c’est à dessein que je place ici cette ambition. Nous devons sans tabou nous poser les bonnes questions : est-ce que notre Politique agricole commune protège bien nos agriculteurs et nos consommateurs ? Je regarde les dernières années, je n’en ai pas totalement le sentiment et nous sommes arrivés à cette forme de paradoxe où la PAC est devenue un tabou français alors que nos agriculteurs ne cessent d’en dénoncer le fonctionnement.

La politique agricole ne doit pas être une politique de suradministration de tous les territoires de l’Union européenne, de toutes les filières et, bien souvent, une politique de revenus accompagnant approximativement les transitions, produisant parfois des schémas complexes que nous avons bien du mal à expliquer à nos peuples.

La politique agricole européenne doit permettre de faire vivre dignement les agriculteurs de leurs revenus en les protégeant face aux aléas du marché et aux grandes crises, elle doit les aider à évoluer pour construire une agriculture plus responsable. Il y aura toujours en Europe plusieurs modèles agricoles et je souhaite que chaque pays puisse accompagner cette transformation selon ses ambitions et ses préférences. Et cette nouvelle politique agricole commune, pour ne pas être bureaucratique et injuste, doit être l’instrument de la transition agricole, de notre souveraineté face aux grands défis de la mondialisation. Elle doit redonner une vitalité, une ambition à nos territoires ruraux.

En d’autres termes, je souhaite que nous puissions ouvrir de manière décomplexée et inédite une Politique agricole commune qui se pense d’abord avec deux objectifs : nous protéger face à ces grands aléas, à la volatilité des marchés mondiaux qui pourrait mettre en péril la souveraineté alimentaire de l’Europe ; favoriser la grande transition agricole européenne et laisser plus de flexibilité au niveau des pays pour organiser la vie des territoires et des filières, mettre moins de bureaucratie, laisser au niveau régional, accompagner de manière plus souple les filières partout où des choix qui restent des choix collectifs de terrains sont nécessaires.

L’exigence des Européens, c’est d’avoir confiance dans les aliments et les produits qu’ils utilisent au quotidien et cela participe de cette sécurité alimentaire que j’évoquais. Et on voit là aussi que l’échelle européenne est incontournable. Nous l’avons vécu l’été dernier avec ce qu’il convient d’appeler désormais la crise des œufs. Nous avons vu que les dysfonctionnements à un endroit de l’Europe, parce que nous sommes un marché intégré, ont des conséquences partout en Europe qui peuvent jeter le doute sur notre sécurité alimentaire, avec une demande parfaitement légitime de nos concitoyens qui est d’avoir la vérité en temps réel sur tous ces sujets.

Il nous faut donc établir une force européenne d’enquête et de contrôle pour lutter contre les fraudes, garantir la sécurité alimentaire, assurer le respect des standards de qualité partout en Europe. Cette transformation, nous devons aussi la conduire. Et à cet égard, je soutiens le choix du président JUNCKER de mettre fin partout en Europe au double standard alimentaire et de faire que cette force puisse être le garant de cette convergence légitime.

L’exigence des Européens, c’est d’avoir aussi confiance dans les experts qui nous éclairent. Nos récents débats sur le glyphosate, les perturbateurs endocriniens montrent la nécessité d’évaluation scientifique européenne plus transparente, plus indépendante, d’une recherche mieux financée qui permet d’identifier les risques et de proposer des alternatives. C’est indispensable. Nous avons aujourd’hui des débats politiques qui, parfois, cherchent à se substituer au débat scientifique. C’est la science qui doit éclairer la dangerosité mais qui doit ensuite, de manière indépendante, transparente, indiquer les alternatives possibles scientifiquement démontrées. En aucun cas cette science ne doit s’effacer au profit d’engagements politiques qui deviennent à ce moment des paroles de sachants ou des paroles d’autorité ni a fortiori ne doivent accepter de laisser la place à une parole publique qui est celle de lobbies, d’intérêts industriels et qui construisent l’opacité sur des décisions collectives qu’attendent nos concitoyens.

Unofficial English translation

A Europe that guarantees our demanding vision of sustainable development is also a Europe of food security and sovereignty, and I deliberately set this ambition here. Without being afraid to break taboos, we must ask ourselves the right questions: does our Common Agricultural Policy protect our farmers and our consumers? I look at the last few years, and I do not totally have this feeling. We have arrived in the paradoxical situation where the CAP has become a French taboo while our farmers are constantly denouncing its functioning.

Agricultural policy must not be a policy of over-administration of all European Union territories, of all sectors and, in many cases, of an incomes policy that loosely supports the transitions, sometimes resulting in complex schemes which we have a hard time to explain to our peoples.

The European agricultural policy must enable farmers to live decently on their incomes and protect them from the vagaries of the market and major crises, and must help them to evolve in order to build a more responsible agriculture. There will always be several agricultural models in Europe and I hope that each country can pursue this transformation according to its ambitions and preferences. And this new common agricultural policy, not to be bureaucratic and unjust, must be the instrument of agricultural transition, of our sovereignty in the face of the great challenges of globalization. It must restore vitality and ambition to our rural territories.

In other words, I hope that we can open up in an uninhibited and unprecedented way a Common Agricultural Policy which first thinks of two objectives: to protect ourselves against these great risks, against the volatility of world markets which could jeopardize the food sovereignty of Europe; and to promote the great European agricultural transition, allowing more flexibility at the country level to organize the life of the regions and sectors, to reduce bureaucracy, to leave to the regional level, to support in a more flexible way all sectors where choices that remain collective land choices are necessary.

The Europeans’ need is to have confidence in the food and products they use on a daily basis and this is part of the food security that I mentioned. And we see here that the European scale is unavoidable. We experienced this last summer with what we should now call the egg crisis. We have seen that dysfunctions in one part of Europe, because we are an integrated market, have consequences throughout Europe that can cast doubt on our food security, with a perfectly legitimate demand from our fellow citizens, to have the truth in real time on all these subjects.

We must therefore establish a European investigation and control force to combat fraud, ensure food safety and ensure that quality standards are respected throughout Europe. We must also lead this transformation. And in this regard, I support President JUNCKER’s choice to end the dual food standard in Europe and to ensure that this force can be the guarantor of this legitimate convergence.

The demand of Europeans is also to have confidence in the experts who enlighten us. Our recent debates on glyphosate and endocrine disruptors show the need for a more transparent, independent, European scientific assessment of better funded research that identifies risks and proposes alternatives. This is essential. Today we have political debates that sometimes seek to take the place of scientific debate. It is science that must shed light on dangers, but then, independently and transparently, indicate the scientifically demonstrated alternatives. In no case must this science step aside in favour of political commitments which at that moment become words of knowledge or words of authority. Nor, even more emphatically, should science agree to give way to a public discourse which is that of lobbies and industrial interests and which build opacity around the collective decisions that our fellow citizens expect.

Evaluation

In general, these comments reflect themes rather than policies (with the exception of the specific proposal for a European investigation and control force on food safety issues). Because they are themes, they represent pegs around which a debate on policies might be organised, but they are in themselves devoid of policy content.

I identify four main themes in this section of his speech.

We should be willing to debate (and reform) the CAP. The reference to breaking taboos suggests that previous French positions on the EU’s CAP might be reviewed. However, no specific examples are provided where revision of the French position might be warranted, so this is a rhetorical statement rather than a pointer to policy. Notably, given the current debate on the future of the EU finances, there is no mention of budgetary and financing issues in the speech.

Two objectives are prioritised for the CAP, risk management (especially from imported price volatility) and promoting a transition to more sustainable agricultural production. Again, the discussion on these issues remains at a rhetorical level and the sentences could have been lifted from election speeches to farm groups. We should recall that Macron’s government has launched a major citizen dialogue initiative in France, des États généraux de l’alimentation, which will in time help to define the French position on these issues.

Greater flexibility to determine agricultural policy should be given to individual Member States and regions. This comes in the context of criticism of the over-bureaucracy of the CAP and the complexity of schemes which are hard to explain to farmers. To the extent that the future CAP should focus more on incentivising changes in the way farmers produce and manage their land, this makes a lot of sense. The challenges of environmental land management are place-specific and cannot be properly addressed through general, uniform prescriptions. However, the challenge in managing flexibility is performance and ensuring that Member States do not abuse flexibility as an excuse for doing nothing.

The role of experts in deciding on food regulations. We can again define this as a theme rather than a policy although there is a concrete proposal in the speech for more funding for research in support of food regulations. It is clearly an important issue and President Macron is right to focus on it. In his speech, he tries to steer a middle course through the public controversies which have surrounded recent discussions in Europe of crop protection chemicals (glyphosate and neonicotinoids), biotechnology and other regulatory issues. On the one hand, he makes a strong case for listening to science rather than groups with a political agenda when it comes to assessing potential dangers of particular products. On the other hand, he acknowledges the risk that debates may be unduly influenced by business interests and calls for greater transparency in decision-making.

This post was written by Alan Matthews

Photo credit: WVIK

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3 Responses to “Macron’s views on the Common Agricultural Policy”

  1. Simon Ward
    September 28, 2017 at 16:26 #

    It is a pragmatic proposal and as such worth exploring. There is no doubt that the bureaucracy is unnecessarily stifling – I recently saw an official document defining a field for purposes of the BPS which was 285 pages long. I suspect every administration in the EU would be able to achieve the BPS objectives without needing full time study by farmer and agency.

    Commodity price risk is certainly manageable at National Level through tax averaging with low cost even if catastrophic collapse required further intervention. Whether a European wide enforcement agency is necessary or just better coordination of the current agencies is a mute point. If more effective or cheaper the infrastructure should be created to allow the improvement (if it is) to evolve.

    However, the EU is bad for consumers since it wilfully neglects the most democratic mechanism of society that of informed purchasing. I am happy with WTO standards for food – hormone treated beef or chlorinated chicken is not a problem for me but others would do anything rather than consume it. I am happy with this but I don’t get the choice. There is no definitive scientific data to show there is a risk certainly put alongside real risks such as alcohol or even diesel fumes but if you want organic food, or non hormone treated beef the label should suffice.

    Ultimately science is about reasoned debate. Democracy is about meeting the wishes of those the elected represent – or is there a role for explaining what is real and what is not?

  2. Alan Matthews →
    September 28, 2017 at 17:24 #

    Thanks for comments, @Simon. Some of the commentary in the media in the past couple of days has interpreted Macron’s comments as implying an opening for a progressive CAP reform, but this seems to be overly influenced by his use of the phrase ‘breaking taboos’. The language used in the rest of this section of the speech makes the usual assumption that agriculture is exceptional and needs protection in defence of the ill-defined notion of ‘food sovereignty.’. But I agree that he has touched on themes that are worth developing.

  3. Kornel R Marton
    October 16, 2017 at 12:56 #

    Discussions about how to reform the CAP, seem to miss out on why the CAP even exists. The CAP is a complicated (and probably unfixable) mess because it tries to solve an intractable problem created by the lopsided trade agreement in the EU that hugely favours exports of goods over exports of food. It was created this way to give a starving post war Germany a peaceful way to finance its food deficits, and avoid mass migration out of Germany into France and Italy.

    Truly free trade, (that also includes food) when introduced in a new area creates significant dislocations between areas of variable fertily. In Europe these variations are massive one the north south axis and also on the west east axis, though less.

    To avoid this, the EU trade accord grants free, push marketing access to the manufactured goods markets of every member state, but only grants pull access to each market’s food sector. A hard good manufacturer can setup direct retail outlets in every EU country and use marketing and advertising to push its products. Food exporters, on the other hand, have to wait until an importing nation actually wants to buy some of its products. It prohibits state aid to uncompetitive manufacturers, but guarantees state aid to uncompetitive farmers. Most farming north of the Alps and east of the Rhine is not competitive with farming in the south and west, CAP funds or no CAP funds.

    This difference has massive consequences for the trade landscape in the EU. The CAP is in place to give some compensation to food exporters for the difference in trade terms for their products, but no matter how the CAP tries, it can’t ever fix the fundamental unfairness of the deal.

    If there was no CAP, and push access was granted to all nations’ food markets, it would lead to massive dislocations in the farming sector. Farming in many northern member states would be uncompetitive, and would result in migration by people working in the farming sector to more fertile climates. French, Italian and Spanish farming could put most of German farming out of business. German farms may be efficient but cannot produce what people would eat in Germany if they had a free choice.

    The current situation is grossly unfair to the more fertile southern states which have to accept all the hard goods from the north, but are not able to freely export what they are good at. This is why we have an upside down world in Europe, where fertile regions are actually less populous than infertile ones, and the migration pattern is from south to north, as opposed to from north to south. The irony of the situation is that he best and brightest leave the south to work in industries in the north that then “feed” on the very places they came from by push exporting manufactured goods there.

    If there was truly free trade in food, food production in the south, specially of the high grade nature, could be vastly expanded. Instead of building industries on perfectly good fertile lands, the southern nations could plant vineyards, olive groves, and start producing massive quantities of high grade vegetables, and refined food products It is completely bizarre that northern Europeans eat flavourless hot house vegetables from industrial lands in the Netherlands and elsewhere, instead of tasty Italian, Spanish and French varieties. A food truck loaded with Italian delicacies could deliver to all of northern Europe within 48 hours.

    The Cap in a way pretends that the massive comparative regional advantages for food production does not exist, and all that is needed is to regulate and organise food production in the EU, and then dish out some regional aid in various ways.