The chief of the Gallic village at the Agriculture Show Expo

Article published on March 28, 2008
Article published on March 28, 2008
We are getting used to Nicolas Sarokzy’s commotions; the insult he pronounced at the Agriculture Show Expo was just another example. However, the agricultural exhibition taking place at the Versailles gate gave him the opportunity to reshape both the agricultural common policy and the agricultural policy of the European Union in the frame of the WTO according to his own understanding.

What will Brussels and our European neighbours think about it?

The Gallic village

No matter what people say, a president fighting is always funny. The Agriculture Show Expo was already part of the French folklore, with Chirac flattering cows and tasting rillettes. To our delight, the 2008 edition will rather remain in our mind as the Gallic slack.

We should not underestimate the impact of this annual meeting. Agriculture remains an important sector of French economy, it shelters a large amount of the  population and it is part of our culture. French presidents have always understood it and Sarkozy, the Fouquet’s city dweller, also had to go along with the hard exercise of charming the rural France. He kept speaking during an-hour-speech or so, tackling the core of farmers’ concerns. Amongst the most urging ones is the common agricultural policy.

An offensive policy

Using a fraternal but firm tone, Nicolas Sarkozy pledged for a new common agricultural policy, more “offensive” and breaking with “the purely defensive and conservative position that [France] has too often taken”. It is hard here to read between the lines here. The president refers to the CAP check up that was realised by the Commission last November. A new distribution of  financial aids among member States will obviously be part of the prescription. This is a source of anxiety for French farmers who are the most important beneficiaries of the CAP, which still annoys our neighbours. Did Nicolas Sarkozy announce inevitable subsidy shortcuts or his will to impose his own conditions to his European partners? The question remains.

The communautarian preference

All in the same time, the president took the skeleton of the “communautarian preference” out of the cupboard. This policy helped European agriculture to develop itself at the beginning of the European integration. This protectionist system imposing taxes on extra-communautarian products and establishing a system of mutual support was hard to maintain with the liberalisation of the international trade. Meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy assured that he would put all his weigh in the  balance of WTO negotiations to avoid dumping practices of developing countries, as well as American pressures.

Walking on eggs

The tone is set though Brussels and our European partners are much embarrassed. Just after the president’s speech, Mariann Fischer Boel, Environment commissioner, prided herself on the president’s drive to participate in reforming CAP, but she added that “no kind of protectionism” would be acceptable. A mitigated enthusiasm which is, once more, characterised by the relations between Paris and Brussels.

Far from the spotlights, the EU has to accommodate its foreign trade policy to the necessity of protecting its farmers, which is like walking on eggs. According to the discrete and smart attitude which characterised the president’s visit at the cattle show case, who would doubt for a second that he will succeed in the exercise?

Julien de Cruz

Translation : Sophie Helbert