France is Europe’s agricultural powerhouse and when it comes to the CAP, it is probably the single most influential member state. So what France thinks is of central importance to the future of EU farm policy. It is therefore good to see the publication of the latest of the national reform profile series at the CAP2020 website, run by the respected Institute for European Environment Policy.
According to Xavier Poux, author of the profile,
France believes a post-2013 CAP needs to be re-legitimised, but should retain the same overall shape at EU level as at the moment (i.e. direct payments and market interventions through Pillar 1 and rural development measures through Pillar 2).
France’s main objective during the ‘health check’ was to legitimate the CAP by shifting money around, principally away from wealthy (mostly crop) producers to farmers facing harder times (mostly grassland beef and sheep farmers, especially on marginal lands). To this end, France is making use of modulation, articles 63 & 68 to shift “nearly 14% of existing Pillar 1 payments” according to this logic. As to plans for beyond 2013, the picture is less clear. Unlike the UK, Netherlands & Sweden, France has not set out a vision for the CAP. As Poux puts it:
It is as if most of the French government’s energy went into the CAP Health Check process and the French Ministry of Agriculture could not see any further.
When France does set out its vision it will retain a strong link to supporting particular patterns of production, with environmental and social-territorial bolt-ons. This will likely set France against the ‘true decouplers’ who would see farmers freed to produce exactly what the market demands, income support phased out and any remaining public money for agriculture targeted at narrowly defined public goods such as biodiversity, landscape and soil & water conservation. As things stand in the Council, France has more allies than the radical reformers and, under Minister Barnier, has more effective at working those alliances and navigating the complex intergovernmental and inter-institutional politics of European farm policy.