Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Sarkomices Agricoles

Sarkozy had a few words to say yesterday about the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy, which is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary. He outlined three principles for reform: "community preference," "food safety," and a supposed desire for reform on the part of farmers, "who do not wish to be welfare recipients, who do not wish to live on subsidies, and who do not want controls on the length of their sheep's fleece." It was a skillful rhetorical turn, especially those digs at regulation and welfare, but Sarko didn't really tip his hand about the actual policy reforms he has in mind, and he is in no rush, since this part of his program will become active only after France assumes the rotating EU presidency in June of next year.

There is a pressing need for reform, especially since EU enlargement. Historically, the CAP was an essential element of the Franco-German compromise that gave birth to the European community, and France has been the principal beneficiary. But with EU enlargement, larger and larger subsidies are going to new member countries, which have yet to experience the "rural exodus" that France, with the help of the CAP, accelerated in the 1950s and 1960s. The CAP has been much reformed since then, but the pressures for further reform keep growing, not least because of rising food prices, a major enemy in the all-important struggle to increase "purchasing power" without increasing labor costs. The CAP accounts for a big chunk of the EU budget, and many member countries would like to see their contributions reduced or their receipts increased or both. There is also pressure from the WTO and Third World countries for greater openness of European markets, and there will be close scrutiny of the use of "food safety" as a pretext for protectionist barriers. Yet there are real issues of quality as well as safety. There are also dangers for developing economies in transforming themselves into suppliers of Europe, as anyone who has seen the wrenching film "Darwin's Nightmare" can attest.

It will be interesting to see see how France uses its EU presidency to approach the issue of CAP reform. In the past two days I have spoken to two researchers who have contributed to think-tank reports commissioned by the French government. It seems that Sarkozy still has not made up his mind how to proceed in this area, and active reassessment is under way.

LATE ADDENDUM: The European Commission applauds Sarko's statement. Support from farmers too.

In case you're wondering about the title, the pun on Comices Agricoles (see Madame Bovary for a description) is intended to add to the list of 640 words formed from the sobriquet "Sarko" and compiled here.

(Thanks to Éloi for some references.)

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