This weekend, France’s biggest agricultural show, the Salon Internationale de l’Agriculture, opened its gates to the public. President Emmanuel Macron put in a long day visiting stands on Saturday, but he was mobbed by farmers and activists worried about their future.
“The agricultural world is under attack by an economic dictatorship, both at the French level and at the global level,” according to Nicolas Girod, spokesman for the Confédération Paysanne, the country’s third-largest farmers’ union.
Many smaller farmers feel they are being left on the sidelines of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In 2018, the CAP accounted for about 40 percent of the 160 billion euro EU Budget. Most of the CAP funding (more than three-quarters) goes to farmers in the form of direct payments.
But with uncertainties as a result of Brexit and the EU’s incapacity to agree a budget, farmers fear that they will pay the price.
“We feel Macron is not likely to fight for a big PAC budget,” says Girod.
Even if the EU’s PAC budget was to remain unchanged, small farmers won’t benefit.
“The bigger you are, the more subsidies you can get…it’s unfair”
“The bigger you are, the more subsidies you can get,” said Claude, a vegetable farmer in Burgundy who came to the Salon de l’Agriculture.
“That doesn’t work. It’s unfair.”
Aurélie Catalo, coordination manager of the platform For Another Common Agricultural Policy says that currently, agribusiness is counted by surface.
Her organisations proposes to “grant payments per worker, and not per hectare. So you would finance with public money employment in rural areas,” she says, adding that “the majority of French farmers are very worried”.
Catalo thinks that “the budget of the CAP will decrease in the coming years. You can’t expect farmers to change practices as subsidies are going down.”
Meanwhile, President Emmanuel Macron said during his speech at the opening of the show, that he was “not sure” it would be possible for the European Union and Britain to reach a trade deal by the end of the year. But the French leader insisted that “the CAP must not” bear the consequences for Brexit. “We did not sacrifice the CAP and I said very clearly: ‘It is not the CAP which will pay for Brexit’.”
Macron has also firmly rejected a British suggestion that City of London companies could be given broad, permanent access to EU markets without conditions.
Overall, French fishing boats generate 30 percent of their revenue from catches in British maritime territories, particularly rich in fish stocks.
French officials say that the UK exports the bulk of its catch to Europe, indicating that British fishermen have plenty to lose if the two sides fail to reach a deal.