The surprise parliamentary election defeat last Sunday of Alain JuppÃ©, a leading member of newly-appointed French cabinet has forced President Nicolas Sarkozy into an unplanned cabinet reshuffle. Newly appointed Agriculture Minister Christine Lagarde has been promoted to the post of Finance Minister. The resulting gap at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing has been filled by Michel Barnier, who until 2005 served as European Commissioner for regional policy.
Barnier is from the the IsÃ¨re dÃ©partement of the RhÃ´ne-Alpes rÃ©gion where he served in local government in the 1970s and 1980s before entering national politics in the 1990s. Together with Jean-Claude Killy he organised the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. He served as Minister of the Environment from 1993 to 1995 and as Secretary of State for European Affairs from 1995 to 1997. He was then appointed as European Commissioner for regional policy in the Prodi Commission from 1999 until March 31, 2004 when he was appointed the Foreign Minister of France in the government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin. Raffarin’s government lasted barely more than a year, at which point Barnier was replaced in the Foreign Ministry.
As a former member of the Prodi Commission, Barnier will have signed up to the far-reaching Fischler reforms of 2003 and his regional responsibilities will have sensitised him to the challenges of European rural development policy. Will he be more willing than previous French agriculture ministers to consider the idea that farm subsidies are not a sufficiently flexible policy to meet the needs of increasingly diverse and increasingly non-agricultural rural communities? Will he be aware of how often the European project has been held back by problems caused by the CAP? Will his former role as environment minister mean he is more likely to act on growing public concern in France about the effects of intensive agriculture on environmental and water quality? I hope so but we will have to wait and see.