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French Farmers Turn Paris into Farm

May 24, 2010

French farmers turned one of France’s most recognizable locales, the Champs-Élysée into a farm covering more than 7.4 acres on Sunday, complete with miniature fields of wheat and cows.  Organized by the French Young Farmers (Jeunes Agriculteurs) union, the event was designed to bring the farm to Parisians and inform people about the plight of the farmers.  While European farmers often use their tractors in protests by blocking major roads, this was a much more imaginative approach.  French farmers saw their incomes decrease by 34% between 2008 and 2009, and this is surely one of the first moves by farmers as the EU is set to begin negotiating the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The CAP is one of the cornerstones of the EU, and while its importance has decreased in the last 50 years, it still accounts for 43% of the EU budget in 2009.  While French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said that he will not accept major changes to the CAP, the current fiscal crisis in Europe may force his hand.  The EU’s budget is fixed at 1.27% of the block’s GNI, so the CAP cannot really grow much.  The proposed EU budget for 2011 earmarks €59.5 billion (or 42% of the budget) for the CAP and since this budget is 1.15% of GNI, the budget will have little growth room without the economies of the 27 member states also growing.

At the same time, the CAP will be receiving increase pressure from farmers as well.  Not only are farm incomes shrinking in France, but the number of farmers will be increasing in the EU.  When the post-Communist countries joined in 2004 and 2007, they agreed that CAP payments would be phased in.  As this happens, there will be considerably more farmers seeking CAP funds, since Poland had more farmers than in the entire pre-2004 EU and Romania has more farmers than in the pre-2007 EU when it joined.  As a result, French farmers may need to do more than turn the heart of Paris into a garden to maintain their payments from the EU.

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