The food and agricultural imperative seems to be quite far from European priorities in view of the latest negotiations on the 2014-2020 CAP reform and the problematic national arbitrations. A very sad state of affairs if one agrees with the notion that agriculture itself brings about the regenerative ability to breathe new life to the European Union.
In a recent editorial we are publishing below1, Thierry Pouch writes that Europe is facing a crisis that is not only an economic crisis but also more globally an identity crisis, especially regarding agriculture. The recent Breton turmoil is one of many examples.
For the time being, the choices made for European agriculture are breeding disappointments and concerns. European farmers might end up helpless against the instability and hyper-volatility of agricultural markets. Equally disturbing, the EU food dependence endorsed by the new CAP reform and the deterioration of European agriculture are occurring at a time when other nations have understood the strategic significance of agriculture, in terms of a channel for power and competitiveness. Europe is falling behind and will face stiff competition, especially against the Brazilian and American giants.
What are we waiting for to return agriculture at the heart of the European vision?
momagri Editorial Board
Stifled by an economic and financial crisis, from which it finds it difficult to emerge, Europe clearly seems to be lacking a global project to be shared by member states. The recent progresses recorded on several issues appear quite hesitant and inadequate to restore some substance to the European strategy, especially a few months before elections that are raising many observers’ concerns with respect to both absenteeism and outcome. As far as agriculture is concerned, the CAP reform is hardly unanimous. Despite jumping up and down on chairs and saying: Europe, Europe, and Europe…
On the eve of renewing the European Parliament and the ensuing new composition of the Commission, what is the state of the Union at the end of 2013? Let’s focus first on the crisis. It is a fact that all 28 EU member states are not affected by the significant and troublesome economic contraction––such as Poland that clearly fared better than its partners––but observers are worried about the crisis, especially for the Euro zone nations. While there are reports indicating a slight improvement of Spain’s macro-economic figures, which prompted Prime Minister Rajoy to speak of an upcoming resolution of the crisis, the fact of the matter is nevertheless that the measures adopted during the past three years permanently quashed any outlook for a recovery benefiting the populations. The case of Greece, which has vanished from the media’s radar screens, remains a concern, especially regarding the state of its finances and banking system. More worrisome even, is the overall pessimism regarding productive investments, thus affecting long-term growth for the Euro zone economies.
In this respect, the project of mutualizing the recovery of still vulnerable banks is meeting difficulties due to significant German resistance. Tensions regarding the issue of posted workers––let’s remember the “Polish plumber” story that made big headlines during the campaign for the European Constitution Referendum––are probably going to ease following the agreement reached on December 9, 2013 in Brussels that aims to strengthen the controls of firms using such type of inexpensive labor.
In addition to all this, we have the plan of minimum wage in Germany as an outcome of the lengthy negotiations held within the new coalition. Is this necessarily the introduction of a social harmonization in Europe, the recognition of fundamental social rights that, according to Martin Schulz, the German candidate for President of the European Commission, would be the long-awaited equivalent of the principle of free movement of goods and capital? Sluggish economic growth, structurally high unemployment, indecisiveness on the measures to be implemented and the laws to be adopted… The European economy appears to be out of step with that of the United States. On the other side of the Atlantic, job creation numbers have been revised and are far exceeding estimates. For the past four months, the pace of job creation is about 205,000. The economic history will note that the strategy of the central bank––the Fed––paid off.
There is also issue of agriculture. The Breton crisis and deteriorating results of French agribusinesses represent recent examples of the uncertainties facing the industry, whose foreign trade results are nevertheless quite satisfactory. Yet, we must not isolate the Breton issue and outline the errors and focus on the weaknesses of this supposedly agricultural model.
The root probably lies elsewhere, that is to say in a European Union increasingly hampered by the agricultural issue, which has nevertheless been one of the foundations upon which it was built. What can the EU offer to agriculture in an increasingly uncertain, unstable and volatile global context?
What are the solutions to be adopted against trade attacks from players such as Brazil, which, especially in the poultry sector, floods world markets with its production and undercuts its key competitors? The European Union is thus at a crossroads. It requires a long-term policy plan that is far from a short-term and purely financial vision.
1 The entire text of the editorial is available from: http://www.chambres-agriculture.fr/fileadmin/user_upload/thematiques/Economie/LetEco1312.pdf