Today’s meeting of the Agriculture Council witnessed the frequently irrestistable force of French attachment to the Common Agricultural Policy run into the occasionally immovable object of UK, Swedish and new member state desire for change. The result was that a much-trumpeted French vision paper for the future of the CAP beyond 2013 was roundly rejected. In the end France used it’s presidential prerogative to adopt the paper as ‘Presidency conclusions’ but as such it has no political weight whatsoever. Some will remember that UK vision paper for the CAP lauched in the final weeks of its own EU presidency at the end of 2005 met a similar fate.
The reality is that the France’s highly interventionist vision is as far from the centre of gravity on the future of the CAP as the UK’s strongly free market vision was three years ago. There was also a sense among member states that the French were attempting to bounce the Council into adopting a new position on the long-term future of the CAP without any real debate or analysis, a strategy described last week in The Economist’s Charlemagne column.
The French paper reiterates the founding principles of the CAP while pointing out a handful of new challenges. It broadly endorses existing mechanisms and the overall scale of ambition of the CAP. As a sop to new member states, the paper does promise to “[address] the differing level of the direct payments between Member States.” In order to win over support from other member states, France dropped disputed references to “market stabilisation” (government price fixing and intervention buying) and the doctrine of “community preference” (tariffs and other measures to keep out imports).
In the end the UK, Sweden and Latvia refused to sign up to the watered-down paper, and this was enough to ensure that there was no formal vote. You can download the nixed paper here.