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EU farmers await agreement on Common Agricultural Policy

PARIS — While American farmers watch Congress struggle to write a new farm bill, French and other European farmers are hoping that the European Union institutions will reach agreement this week on a revision of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

Talks between the European Commission and the EU member states began today in Luxembourg and are scheduled to move Wednesday to Brussels where the commission and the European Parliament will try to reach agreement. The goal is to reach a deal before July 1 when Ireland hands over the European Union presidency to Lithuania.

Today several environmental protesters were detained in Luxembourg while several thousands farmers demonstrated in the French capital and offered samplings of their food to bystanders, according to news reports.

Copa-Cogeca, the equivalent of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, also scheduled a news conference in Luxembourg. A positive and rapid decision on CAP reform is vital, the two groups said in a news release.

“Measures included in the final package must be practical to apply and ambitious. With farmers hit increasingly by disastrous weather conditions, with farmers incomes half the average level, with food demand set to rise by 70 percent by 2050, it is more important than ever before to have a strong CAP,” the statement said.

“Copa-Cogeca does not want an agreement at any price, but we believe that a good agreement covering all aspects of the CAP is now within sight.”

Although the CAP does not include an equivalent of the U.S. food stamp program, a number of the issues that have been difficult to resolve in Europe are similar to those that have plagued U.S. farm policy developments, according to a recent interview with officials at FNSEA, the largest French farm organization.

As in the United States, the biggest issue has been the budget. Farm program critics have noted for years that the CAP is the single largest line item in the EU budget and have said that money should be shifted to other priorities.

Two of the biggest issues have been, as they are in the United States, whether farm payments should follow production or help small farmers more and how the payments should be tied to conservation compliance, known in Europe as “greening.”

The European Union has traditionally made different types of payments to producers depending on whether they are crop, livestock or dairy producers, but EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos has pushed to move toward similar, per hectare payments.

“In France it is difficult because we have a diverse agriculture,” said Claude Soudè, a an FNSEA communications official. “We have some very intensive farms on quite small farms [in hectares], also big extensive farms.”

French farmers also want to make sure that they get credit for the environmental advances they have already put in place.

Patrick Ferrère

Patrick Ferrère
Oddly enough, while French President Francois Hollande has become unpopular with most of the French people, FNSEA believes he has done a good job for the farmers by instating that the EU continue to send the same amount of money to France under the CAP, said Patrick Ferrère, the FNSEA director general.

“With Hollande it is a success with FNSEA,” Ferrère said. “We are not considered a trade union, not on the right or on the left. We differentiate a good policy for farmers and for agriculture in France.”

The CAP proposal would leave some decisions on “greening” to the national governments, but — in a statement that sounded like American farm officials talking about the impact of decisions made by California and other state governments — Ferrere said FNSEA wants most of those decisions left to the European Commission.

“We don’t want the French government to find something new,” Ferrere said. “The French government is always the best student of the classroom. They always want to go higher and be the best student. We want to do it at the EU level.”