“Achieving an Authentic Intellectual Revolution
in Relation to Agriculture”
by Jean-François Copé,
President of the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) Group
in the French National Assembly
Following the January 21 UMP general meeting on the challenges of food security and independence––meeting during which momagri’s thinking was presented as the reference project––the notion of global governance for agriculture has gained momentum among French lawmakers.
This past April 28, a new step was reached at the meeting of the group of European People’s Party (EPP) members of the European Parliament from the 27 member nations––known as the “Club of the 27”. In fact, the closing speech outlining a firm and committed defense of agriculture delivered at the January 21 meeting by Jean-François Copé, President of the UMP group in the French National Assembly, was circulated at the event.
This speech deserves to be mentioned since it shows that a number of political decision-makers are becoming aware of the stakes linked to agriculture, a fact also highlighted by the latest interview granted by Nicolas Sarkozy in the April 20 issues of La France Agricole and Agrapesse, excepts of which were recently published by momagri. But beyond such political awakening, Jean-François Copé’s speech gets the credit for advocating a genuine regulation policy for agriculture, whose tools and instruments are directly inspired by momagri’s recommendations. We are proposing below a few excerpts from Mr. Copé’s speech.
Momagri Editorial Board
Selected excerpts from the speech delivered by Jean-François Copé, President of the UMP Group at the French National Assembly, at the January 21, 2010 meeting on the “Major Challenges of Food Security and Independence.” (Text of the speech also included in the “Club of the 27” dossier on April 28, 2010).
(…) I believe that one of the priorities to take up the food challenges is to achieve an authentic intellectual revolution in industrialized nations regarding agriculture.
In a country where 77 percent of the population lives in the cities, many Frenchmen are considering rural life to be part of our past. With a touch of nostalgia.
They are quite aware that, throughout the centuries, agriculture has shaped France, its landscapes and its mindsets… Of course, they feel a certain pride for this past, but they end up almost filing agriculture in the “history” section of their bookshelves.
French people have the misguided feeling that agriculture’s contribution has become a marginal one. One must admit that our country’s meaningful changes can reinforce such feeling: 40 percent of the labor force worked in agriculture in 1900 while, today, only four percent do so.
We cannot, however, rate the significance of an economic sector by the percentage of workers it employs.
First, we must consider all the indirect jobs tied to interrelated activities. If we include the whole French agribusiness industry, we can monitor nearly 1.5 million people, over six percent of the labor force and 3.5 percent of GNP (2007 figures).
But most importantly, we must take into consideration the highly strategic nature of food! Agriculture is not an activity like any other. It represents an essential geostrategic asset for France and for Europe. It is talked about a lot less but, in my mind, this issue is as crucial as the continent’s energy independence.
Europeans must understand that agriculture does not belong to the past but is an essential part of our future!
In France, we talked at length about investing for the future. We discussed advanced education and research, nanotechnologies and re-industrialization… We must now consider agriculture as expenditure for the future! An investment for the up-coming generations. A critical component of sustainable economic development and renewed growth. (…)
In that case, what bases for European food security? What kind of agriculture do we want in order to meet the challenge of hunger while preserving our planet and guarantee Europe’s food security and independence?
1. First, we need an ambitious and restructured common agricultural policy.
Such position obtains almost unanimous agreement in France. But let’s recognize that all our European partners do not share this opinion. They consider that the CAP is first and foremost the means for agricultural nations to binge on subsidies… We must work to change such fundamental attitudes!
This is the reason why we must undertake today the reform of the 2013 CAP. We must convince our partners that by supporting the CAP, we are not backing our own interests as an agricultural nation: We are standing up for their interests as consumers! The CAP represents €100 per European and per year. We must make it very clear that €100 per year––less than €0.30 per day––it is not water to a bottomless bucket but the price to pay for our food security, diversity and quality! (…)
We must definitely work hard to apply financing where it is fair and necessary. New balanced proposals must be carried out, and this is normal. But it is out of the question for us to sell off the CAP!
In a world where food can become a source of conflicts, remaining an agricultural power is not a luxury… We must strengthen and modernize the founding principle of the CAP: The system of preferences.
We are not talking about turning Europe into a fortress, but I believe we have the duty to protect European markets from the sharp fluctuations of global prices and low-cost imports, which do not comply with any sanitary, social and environmental restrictions. (…)
This does not mean that we must withdraw and ignore the restrictions of the world’s other countries, especially the less developed areas.
2. The second requirement is thus the implementation of new regulation tools at the global level!
Rather than betting on competition without limits, it is now time to establish an agricultural governance system for the world’s large regions.
I was extremely interested by the proposals made by the workshop that addressed these issues. They partly agree with my own belief concerning the need to create a global organization of agriculture.
Such organization would be in charge of the major regional orientations, manage stocks and supervise, for each large agricultural region, setting equilibrium prices that could fluctuate within an adjustable range, like the European Monetary Snake in the good old days…
To be honest, I am convinced that to eventually meet the major challenges of the 21st century in this rationale of global governance, we must merge the G-20 and the Security Council to create a global governance council that would address issues of security as well as those related to the environment and health… Food security would, of course, be included in its priorities.
Global agricultural markets must replace the notion of blind competition to that of cooperation and partnership. Such partnership should be based on two inevitable obligations:
- Fairness: Each large region must be able to feed its population and to export, without threatening other areas’ agricultural activities;
Because it maintains very close ties to many African countries, France must set an example of international cooperation with the most precarious countries. Nowadays, we are too inclined to dispatch emergency aid when a food crisis occurs. Would it not be better to boost assistance to our partners, so that they can permanently resolve food shortages? To that end, they must ensure their food subsistence on their own.
- Environmental protection: Respecting our planet can no longer be a secondary stipulation!
Efforts regarding development aid must focus on the agricultural part as a top priority. We must support the creation of integrated agricultural activities in less developed countries and speed up technology transfers towards less productive agricultures.
Let’s not bury our heads in the sand: It also represents a way to contain the international flows of migrant workers! If we want the local populations to settle on their land, they must at least be able to eat and drink. Hunger is one of clandestine immigration’s best allies… Not only between Southern and Northern nations, but also between Southern countries themselves, leading to risks of drastic destabilization for the most unstable regimes!
3. Lastly, we must, at the French level, keep investing in and modernizing our agriculture!
We cannot transfer the problems solely to Brussels or to a global governance system. We also have levers that are contingent upon our national will.
In France, we must again and again pursue efforts to modernize our agriculture.
Thanks to the Bill on the Modernization of Agriculture, we are giving a strong signal! It is possible to take concrete steps to improve the living conditions of farmers and to balance the relationships between the various players in agricultural fields by:
- Standardizing written contracts that specify traded volumes and long-term prices;
This meeting allowed the majority representatives to demonstrate their commitment to an ambitious agricultural policy at the national, European and global levels.
- Improving risk coverage tools that protect farmers against market hazards;
- Developing food public policies that showcase local agricultural production;
- Better protecting agricultural land against real estate speculation, so that the future of our food is not compromised by today’s whims.
In the midst of a particularly harsh and distressing food crisis, we wanted to show that we are rejecting fatalism! Yes, we do reject the decline of French and European agricultural activities.
For us, agriculture represents a high value-added economic segment. It is an innovation and employment source!
We are therefore fully mobilized so that France makes the most of its agricultural assets, while fully assuming its role in fighting hunger worldwide.