France backs “profound” reform of CAP

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Series Details Vol.7, No.44, 29.11.01, p3
Publication Date 29/11/2001
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Date: 29/11/01

By Simon Coss

THE French public's long-standing love affair with the country's farmers is well and truly over if the results of an extensive new government report on the future of the EU are to be believed.

French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin ordered the study, Ensemble, D├ęssinons l'Europe, after the December 2000 Nice summit.

The 165-page document is the result of a series of regional seminars held across France that gave around 25,000 ordinary French citizens the chance to say how they thought the European Union should develop.

And when it came to the question of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), France's farmers will not find the document makes for an encouraging read.

Most participants at the regional seminars "judged that a profound reform of the CAP - radical for some - was necessary in order to break with its productivist past."

The report shows clearly that in the wake of recent food scares including the mad cow crisis, worries over genetically modified crops and last summer's foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks, the French public is deeply worried about the way the CAP operates and wants to see it changed as soon as possible. But the study has also presented the country's leaders with something of a conundrum.

Chirac and Jospin have made it clear on numerous occasions that they are not prepared to consider any fundamental CAP reforms before 2006, when the current Agenda 2000 budgetary package expires.

However, faced with such overwhelming evidence that most French voters want to see reforms introduced now, they may just want to reconsider their hard-line stance - especially with elections on the horizon.

Traditionally, France's farmers have enjoyed widespread popular support so assisting them has usually been considered a vote-winner.

But if, as the report suggests, there has been a sea change in public opinion, backing the farmers - who represent only 4 of the country's working population - may seem a less attractive electoral option.

A spokeswoman for Pierre Moscovici, minister for Europe, conceded that the report showed most people felt it "ridiculous to spend nearly half of the budget on such a small number of people".

"They want to be able to eat without fear," she added.

The spokeswoman ruled out CAP reforms before 2006, but admitted France could envisage certain "re-adjustments" to the current set-up before then.

Such moves could involve spending more CAP money on rural development and encouraging environmentally friendly farming methods.

Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler's spokesman Gregor Kreuzhuber described the findings of the new report as "excellent news".

Report of the results of a study, 'Ensemble, D├ęssinons l'Europe', begun after the December 2000 Nice summit, which gave ordinary French citizens the chance to say how they thought the European Union should develop.

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