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Towards a Multifunctional Agricultural Policy

1962: Sicco Mansholt, vice-president of the EEC in charge of agriculture, considered the father of the common agricultural policy.

Since the beginnings of European integration in 1958, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been a vector of European identity. More recently, a research program conducted in five member States, representative of large European agrarian systems, set out to clarify the diversity of notions covered by the term 'multifunctional' which is at the center of debates today over a new common agricultural policy.

In the 1960's, the common agricultural policy was the best guarantee of French-German reconciliation as it pushed to a European Community level the national mobilisation plans put into effect after 1945 as a move against war-caused food shortages. During the economic crisis of the 1970's, the PAC was hurt by exchange rate fluctuation and instability of world prices and came to be the most visible expression of a European identity crisis and of “euro-pessimism”. Since the decade of the 1980s, the PAC has become the chief testing grounds for instruments and strategies designed to spur free market economics and foreign trade.

Reforms decided since then have successively abandoned the first PAC and its principle of price guarantees for unlimited production levels. Measures to control supply were introduced starting in 1984 in the dairy and grain sectors. In 1992, for reasons both internal (skyrocketing European agricultural budget) and external (pressure from world trade negotiations during the Uruguay round1), market and price supports were lowered significantly and replaced by a system of direct payments financed by the European budget. In 1997 the European Council met in Berlin to pursue the same direction (further cuts in price compensation levels for direct payments) but also, in a new departure, it recognised the multi-functionality of agriculture. Towards this end, it instituted a “second pillar” of the PAC, a mission to promote “rural development”.

The problems associated with this shift become readily apparent if one considers that agriculture is by nature multifunctional. Besides producing food, agricultural choices affect environment, landscape, spatial planning, rural employment, food safety (and food sufficiency), biodiversity, and other areas. Why then did it take until 1997 to recognise the essentially multifunctional character of agriculture? Does this change in approach reflect the emergence of a new agricultural paradigm leading to a fundamental redirection of the primary sector in Europe, or is it just a smokescreen of new terms and labels behind which business will be carried on as usual?

To answer this question, research first had to bring some order to the many disparate notions of multi-functionality which are presented in debates on PAC reform. Drawing on the economic literature and on surveys conducted at the OECD and in five representative member States (Germany, France, and the UK in the north, Spain and Greece in the south), this research program undertook an analysis of the new PAC to see if and how its institutional mechanisms and subsidy systems maintained and encouraged the diversity of functions that up until that point constituted the originality of the “European agricultural model”.

An in-depth exploration of the contours of the Community's agricultural policy soon uncovers a number of reasons to doubt that multi-functionality is a stable, well-grounded paradigm; conceptual differences abound, intense debate goes on both within and among countries, and deep reforms of the PAC – and of national policies – follow one upon the other. Rather than a paradigm, multi-functionality serves as a banner announcing that the old productivist model is outmoded, rallying those who are in search of a new organising principle to redefine not only the role of agriculture in society but also the tools, actors, and areas of a new agricultural policy.

Research on the multi-functional dimension of the PAC is coordinated by Hélène Delorme, senior researcher at the Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques (FNSP) and member of the Center for International Studies and Research in Paris (CERI, CNRS / FNSP). This research brings together 11 researchers, doctoral students, and engineers from the University of Montpellier, University of Paris I and X, from INRA (Grenoble, Nantes, and Paris), from the Institut Agronomique Méditerranean of Montpellier, from the research unit “Sciences Economiques et Gestion” at Reims, from the Ministry of Agriculture, from the laboratory “Dynamiques Sociales and Recomposition des Espaces (LADYSS, associated with the CNRS), and from the EU's Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations (COPA). This programme of research received funding from the CNRS programme “European Identity in Questions”.




Hélène Delorme
Centre d'études et de recherches internationales

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