Sunday, February 24, 2008

More on the Salon de l'Agriculture

No, I'm not going to talk about the incident; commenters to yesterday's post have already done that. What is there to say? Sarko was rude to a rude heckler. We already knew that he is blunt, confrontational, and crude. He didn't hide his goujaterie before the election; voters elected him anyway. He has four more years in office. Get used to it.

Instead, I want to talk about the Common Agricultural Policy. Sarko wants to reform it. He has said so before, as I discussed in posts on Sept. 12 and Oct. 11 of 2007. I said at the time that the contours of any reform proposal remained vague and that France and the European Commission and EU partners did not appear to see eye to eye. These statements remain true, despite the passage of many months. Sarkozy added no detail at all to his express desire for a "complete reworking" of the CAP. Indeed, he may be setting the stage for a repeat of the disappointment he provoked with his failure to make good on a promise to increase purchasing power.

The two failures are not unrelated. What has changed since September is a sharp spike in inflation, and in food prices in particular. The rise in food prices is believed to be structural, as worldwide demand for food rises faster than global supply. Logically, this should mean greater pressure to reduce EU subsidies and to reduce prices through intensified competition. Sarkozy has said that he favors reduced subsidies and that French farmers agree with him, but at the same time he promises to resist any attempt to diminish or eliminate the "EU preference" in an effort to increase competition among suppliers. Yet he does want to intensify competition in the retail sector in order to lower prices to the consumer, and this could put additional pressure on farmers. To date he has given no clue to how he intends to resolve these tensions and continues to speak in wholly "voluntarist" terms about the coming French presidency of the European Commission, as if assuming that role will give him carte blanche to reform the CAP in line with whatever he decides the interests of French farmers are (he said not a word about the interests of other farmers or of the disproportionate share of EU farm subsidies that goes to France). This is clearly another case of promising too much in appearance while promising nothing at all concrete in reality. He is raising expectations beyond what he can deliver, ignoring the need to compromise with partners, and emphasizing the powers of the executive (in this case at the EU level) to the exclusion of the rest.

Has he failed to learn from past mistakes? It's too soon to tell, but the signs are worrisome. For an expert view of the CAP, this blog is useful. For instance, note the startling figure in this post (pertaining to UK only, I believe?).

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