Macron to farmers: France stood firm on EU farm budget

French President Emmanuel Macron talks with a member of the French farmers union FNSEA as he arrives at the 57th International Agriculture Fair (Salon international de l'Agriculture) at the Porte de Versailles exhibition center in Paris, France February 22, 2020. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday told farmers that France stood its ground in opposing cuts to agricultural subsidies and would continue to do so, a day after an EU summit on the bloc’s next budget ended in deadlock.

European Union leaders failed on Friday to agree on a next seven-year budget, as a funding shortfall created by Britain’s departure sharpened debate over spending priorities.

Like his predecessors, Macron has called on Europe to maintain a large budget for its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), of which France is the main beneficiary.

Inaugurating the annual Paris farm show on Saturday, Macron said France would resist efforts to cut the CAP envelope.

“On the CAP we defend an ambitious budget. CAP cannot be the adjustment variable of Brexit. We need to support our farmers,” Macron said.

“If we do not have a deal, we keep the current system. We are protected by the fact that without a deal, we keep the system as it is. We did not yield to those who wanted to reduce the (CAP) budget,” he added.

Macron has had an uneasy relationship with farmers, a powerful lobby in the EU’s biggest agricultural producer.

He initially won plaudits for legislation aimed at sharing profits more fairly along the food chain. But the effects have yet to be felt widely at farm level, while Macron’s determination to phase out weedkiller glyphosate has fuelled farmers’ resentment at being cast as polluters.

In the aisles of the agricultural show, Macron tried to reassure farmers that glyphosate would not be scrapped in cases where there were no alternatives, while rules on safe distances for pesticide spraying would be adopted progressively.

“We are behind our farmers and peasants. They feed us everyday. We must be proud of French agriculture. I know I can count on our farm world to successfully transform, keeping a strong agriculture while managing to reduce pesticide use,” he said.

There were glimpses of recent tensions with a heated exchange with a woman about pension reforms, but hefty security kept protesters, some sporting T-shirts with “Peasants without President” at a distance.

As part of the customary presidential visit to the show, which attracts around 600,000 visitors over 10 days, Macron tasted French specialities like Charolais beef and was offered a jersey from the soccer team Olympique de Marseille. He posed in front of “Ideale”, an imposing Charolais-breed cow chosen as the mascot for this year’s event.

Macron began his visit with a tribute to former French President Jacques Chirac, a popular figure in the farming world and enthusiastic visitor to the Paris show, who died last year.