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Country News - 2003

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More French obstruction to CAP reform

Tuesday 24 June 2003

ONCE again the French are holding up long-sought reforms of the notorious Common Agricultural Policy, according to the National Union of Farmers. And for Yorkshire Dales farmers, this is a problem which could mean the difference between economic life or death.

Ever since the creation of the Common Market, French peasant farmers have been the major recipients of CAP subsidies but new reforms - which have been under discussion for years - would turn France into a net contributor to the EU's huge budget.

In other words, the French would pay more into the coffers than they take out - and that has caused alarm in Paris.

The new talks, set up to solve these difficulties, were aimed at "de-coupling" subsidy payments from the amount of food produced and switching them to rewarding farmers for the work they do in preserving the rural environment.

This is of vital importance to Dales hill farmers, who have lived for years on the edge of profitability, and who have been accused of over-grazing rare habitats like heather moors with sheep in order to stay in business.

The talks have stalled, however, because the French are opposing de-coupling, which is causing "deep frustration" says Sir Ben Gill, the East Yorkshire farmer who is president of the NFU.

The talks broke up in confusion last week but will start again tomorrow (Wednesday, June 25) in what is being seen by many as a last ditch effort to keep the negotiations alive.

Sir Ben, who will fly to Luxembourg to monitor any progress, says angrily: "The reform package is becoming a mess. The original clarity and simplicity has been watered down. This is exactly what we feared would happen and we urge the Commission to stand firm."


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