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New EU Farm Chief Seeks Middle Ground

The European Union’s top farm official said he would seek to combine market forces and support mechanisms for farmers in a debate on the bloc’s farm policy that is set to oppose countries like France and Britain.

But European Agriculture Commiss ioner Dacian Ciolos said it was too early to discuss specific measures that may be included in the EU’s farm policy in its next version after 2013, telling reporters Feb. 27 during a visit to the Paris farm show he would outline proposals by the end of the year.

“I think it’s important to find the middle way,” Ciolos said after a joint press conference with France’s agriculture minister. “I don’t like extremes.”

The appointment of Ciolos, a Romanian who trained in France as an agro-engineer, has been touted as a diplomatic victory by France, which is pushing for firmer regulation of agriculture in order to counter volatility and declining farm incomes.

However, the new commissioner was careful to stress the value both of a greater opening of EU agriculture to markets under past reforms, as well as a need to find instruments to stabilize farm revenue and protect the environment.

The focus should not just be on budget issues, which have been a major source of tension between CAP supporters like France and critics such as Britain and the Netherlands.

“What is important is not simply the budget…but how European agriculture as a whole can survive.”

France gathered 22 EU members in December in a call for an “ambitious” CAP, rejecting a paper from the European Commission suggesting the EU’s farm budget to be slashed.

French Agriculture Minister Bruno Le Maire hailed the presence of Ciolos at the launch of this year’s Paris farm show, the first time a European commissioner has opened the event. The show draws huge crowds and visiting it is an important exercise for political leaders in Europe’s largest agricultural producer.

Le Maire used the show, which is dubbed “France’s biggest farm,” to reiterate his proposals, such as greater use of intervention storage or the development of supply contracts between farmers and food processors, to support producers.

“It is unacceptable that farmers have to sell their products below their cost price,” he said at the press conference with Ciolos.

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