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French Farmers Want More Flexible EU Aid

The European Union should vary the amount of aid it gives to farmers to help them cope with swings in market conditions, France’s main farm union said Jan. 7.

EU farm aid totals some 40 billion euros (US$57 billion) annually and will be at the heart of negotiations starting this year on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that runs to 2013 in its current form.

“The response to market volatility should be flexibility in aid,” Jean-Michel Lemetayer, president of the FNSEA farm union, told a news conference. “You should give more support when things are bad and less support when things are better.”

Member states regularly offer national aid on top of annual EU subsidies, including measures last year in response to a downturn in agricultural prices, but the FNSEA said core European aid should be better adapted to conditions.

The union cited as an example the U. S., where officials said direct annual aid increased strongly last year, when prices fell in most farm sectors, in comparison with 2007-08, when agricultural prices surged.

“You can see that the Americans cope with crises better than we do,” Lemetayer said.

Despite signs of improvement, notably in the dairy sector, agricultural markets remained weak in France after a 2009 that was “the worst farm year in the past 35,” he said.

The French government should notably be ready to help farmers who are facing a cut in aid this year as a mid-term reform of the CAP, agreed in late 2008, is implemented, he added.

In its adoption of the so-called CAP health check, France chose to shift some aid from grain growers towards livestock breeders, leading to bitter disputes within the FNSEA.

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