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12 March: Sarko steals the headlines

Quite a week for Nicolas Sarkozy, then.

After skipping the opening ceremony of the Salon d’Agriculture, the French president wrapped up the show by announcing that France is ready to accept farm budget cuts – but only if EU farmers are given more protection against imports.

Speaking at a debate on Saturday, Sarkozy said Paris would be “supple” about the budget but “rigid” in its demand that agricultural imports be subject to the same standards of production as those adhered to by EU farmers.

“I am ready to accept reducing the share of agricultural spending in the EU budget provided that we use community preference,” Sarkozy said, a reference to the high standard of environmental rules followed by EU producers

This, then, indicates a significant shift in thinking. Only three months ago, Bruno Le Maire, Sarkozy’s agriculture minister, hosted a meeting of 21 other EU nations to defend the agricultural budget beyond 2013.

Even so, Sarkozy echoed calls by Le Maire that EU farm policy should include regulatory instruments to reduce price volatility, and allow farmers to negotiate collectively with retail customers.

He also said Paris would propose tougher regulation of agricultural markets when it takes over the presidency of the G-20 countries in November.

Alan Matthews discusses Sarkozy’s headline-making announcement on the capreform.eu blog this week.

“There are two issues with this argument. The first is whether the argument itself holds up,” Matthews says. “The second issue with the Sarkozy approach is that it would fall foul of WTO trade rules.”

Still, Alan wonders whether Sarkozy’s proposal is “a sign of some new flexibility in French thinking” – and what French farm organizations think of it, of course.

Also discussing Sarkozy’s proposal this week is Wyn Grant. He says the argument that “imported products should be produced to the same standard as in the EU … sounds reasonable enough but in fact is a way of excluding developing country exports altogether.”

Elsewhere on the capreform.eu blog this week, Valentin Zahrnt discusses a bold new declaration by the European Parliament’s Socialists & Democrats that the CAP should be “revolutionized”.

Though Valentin finds fault with the statement – not least its unqualified rejection of national co-financing of CAP subsidies – his overall assessment is “strongly positive”.

The level of change envisioned is “outstanding”, he says, and compared with “the stubborn defense of vested interests that is endemic in the EP Committee on Agriculture, the statement is “a great step forward.”

While Sarkozy was making headlines down at the farm show, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, Dacian Ciolo? announced that the “blueprint” for the future of the CAP post-2013 would be delivered slightly later than planned.

Speaking via a recorded message at the National Farmers Union conference in Britain, Ciolo? said it’s too early to say how the public debate on the future of the CAP will be “framed’.

Meanwhile, Spain’s farm minister, Elena Espinosa, at a seminar organized by the European Parliament Socialist Group, stressed that post-2013 the CAP should have a “sound budget” and be based on a system of direct payments to farmers, market instruments and crisis management, and rural development policy.

Finally, this week also saw a new report [sub. req’d] by the European Environment Agency, which argues that CAP payments could be used more effectively to support High Nature Value farmland and help halt biodiversity loss. The report includes five case studies which suggest fundamental differences in CAP implementation in EU-15 and EU-12.

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