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Musical chairs at the French Ministry for Agriculture

Michel BarnierThe surprise parliamentary election defeat last Sunday of Alain Juppé, 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 Isère département of the Rhône-Alpes région 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.

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One Reply to “Musical chairs at the French Ministry for Agriculture”

  1. Ideally, Michel Barnier because of his both European and French political experiences might be able to trigger a new dynamic for CAP definition and decoupling implementation…

    On the one hand, as a previous European Commissioner for regional policy, he was involved into 1999-2004 European Commission’s collegial achievements. It includes the effectiveness of rural development integration into the CAP -following the Agenda 2000 which introduced a dichotomy between first (market support and direct payments) and second (rural development measures) pillar. Also, he may be aware of the progressiveness of the 2003 CAP Reform. Taking into consideration the liberty given by the Luxembourg Agreement for national implementation, he might embrace a CAP “health check”. Indeed, there is a natural requisite for economical, social, environmental and territorial impact assessment. Focusing on direct payments, have to be evaluated heterogeneous implementation of decoupling -on full or partial basis (with effects on common market and competition), – on historical or regional model (allowing a redistribution of direct payments between individual or collective beneficiaries, production processes and territories), but also the administrative management and transferability of entitlements, the cross-compliance commitments, etc. Former colleague of Franz Fischler, he also was sharing office with Pascal Lamy, previous EU Trade Commissioner and current WTO Director General…

    On the other hand, his French political career, led both at national and regional/local level, may be useful. First and foremost, as a former Minister of environment, he may privilege a sustainable agriculture. His guiding principle should consider the provision by farm sector of environmental and territorial public goods. It is opportune to remember that in order to legitimate and simplify direct payments to farmers, Germany, pushed by a former green agriculture Minister, has chosen a divergent way of decoupling implementation. Single Farm Payments (SFPs) are not conditioned to any production (by a full decoupling scheme) while a hybrid SFPs scheme (regional-dynamic) will allow a redistribution of direct payments between historic beneficiaries. This path has not been chosen by France. Also, the Minister of Agriculture may consider imbalanced budget which will occur within the current financial perspective. In order to implement pertinent rural development measures and to address rural areas challenges, he may ponder a financial reorientation from the first towards the second pillar of the CAP. He may settle up modulation adjustments (flat or progressive, unique or differentiated, voluntary or compulsory rates) and cap maximum amount of direct payment a farm can receive…

    The calendar he faces (2008 CAP “health check” and 2008-2009 European budget review) tends to anticipate that his ministerial experiences in Foreign and European Affairs of France might be valuable in order to foster consensuses…

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