French CAP plan nixed by Council

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.

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3 Replies to “French CAP plan nixed by Council”

  1. Jack. Thanks for providing the “nixed” text. I find the final draft rather inocuous, if you except the sentence “it is necessary for the European Union to continue to have after 2013 a common and sufficiently ambitious agricultural policy”, whose implicit call for maintaining the “old CAP” was watered down by following sentences. I think that the same text could have been adopted if it had been submitted by any other MS than France. My impression is that Member states are above all afraid of getting involved in the kind of 2002 Chirac-Schroeder deal that preempted future negotiations. So it is safer to kill any attempt in the nest (perhaps rightly so). They also believe that behind any French initiative there is a manoeuvre with the hidden objective of defending net budget returns (well… hard to blame them for believing that). For example, the Dutch (and the Commission) saw the French coming when Barnier defended, right in the middle of the food crisis, the need for an ambitious insurance scheme… under Pillar 1 without national cofinancing (OK this one was a bit too obvious, but should we kill all debate on market management?).

    An issue such as maitaining or not some degree of market intervention and safety nets deserves a much cooler debate. Neither the French (awkward) attempts to secure net ag budget returns after 2013 nor the paranoia of other MS regarding any French initiative are likely to lead anywhere.

  2. I tend to agree with Christophe Bureau that the Presidency conclusions paper as adopted reads as a relatively harmless document, while understanding the concerns of the UK and others who wanted to avoid under any circumstances signing up to a document which might imply spending commitments after 2013. There is explicit reference at the top of the paper that the conclusions “are without prejudice to the future discussions on the budget review and new financial perspectivers for the period after 2013.” It apears that the UK refusal to sign was more a protest that more time was needed to discuss the document rather than opposition to principle to anything now in it. Given that the document had been given a thorough vetting at SCA level, it is nonetheless worth analysing for what it says about views of the CAP at the present time.

    The short document has three parts: a list of challenges, a set of policy objectives and a (short) list of rather vague commitments.

    The list of challenges is introduced with a preamble emphasising that changes in the global demand for food will bring new opportunities for the agricultural sector, although the prospect of increasing global demand for food is then presented also as the first of the new challenges. Uncertainty about the level and stability of prices for some commodities is also presented as a new challenge (some might argue those concerns have been around since at least the Treaty of Rome).

    The list of objectives for the CAP is fairly conventional. Ensuring a fair standard of living for the agricultural community no longer makes an appearance. Contributing to global food balances in a world in which it will be necessary to double agricultural production is a new concern which has not appeared in previous statements of CAP objectives, although the more traditional goal of ensuring adequate availability of supplies to European consumers is restated.

    By far the weakest part of the document, if it was intended to start a debate on the shape of the CAP post-2013, is the list of proposed measures. Innovation and research and development is underlined in a way which is relatively novel in papers of this kind, but the only even half-way concrete commitment is to address the differing level of the direct payments between member states.

    So, no grand ideas, whether to reconceptualise the role of direct payments, to rethink the balance between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2, or the balance between EU and national expenditure. No mention is made of trade policy or potential WTO commitments, despite the rumblings in Geneva about a possible Ministerial meeting before the end of the year. Indeed, there is no mention even of risk management or safety nets which have become the new flavour of the month. It may be that these references were gutted in the drafting and negotiating which preceded the Council meeting. But, all in all, the document which emerged makes a very limited contribution to the debate on the CAP post-2013.

  3. The paper was not agreed by the SCA, as far I know. It was changed. The night before ministers discussed it, Michel Barnier dropped out of a speech to the food industry (CIAA) because he had an intense schedule of bilaterals. Philippe Rouault, délégué interministériel aux industries agroalimentaires et à l’agro-industrie, spoke instead.
    He used the original language describing CAP as a “strategic asset” and gave the game away somewhat.
    “Opening this strategic reflection is urgent if we do not want agriculture to become a variable in an adjusted European budget,” he said.
    Rouault also made it clear that was French “objective” to use the health check to preserve direct intervention into markets and production subsidies.
    “The red line was to preserve tools for the regulation of markets, not to give up the economic governance that the CAP founded over 40 years ago,” he said.
    “It is a central point… the CAP does not mean that all links are cut with production.”

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