Faced with post-fact populism, Europe is our best hope - EU monitor

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Friday, May 29, 2020
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Faced with post-fact populism, Europe is our best hope

Source: Ph. (Phil) Hogan i, published on Friday, March 17 2017.

There was a time, not so long ago, when politicians who were found to have been 'economical with the truth' were generally expected to resign.

Now, it seems, those who are the most 'economical' are also the most popular.

But there is a problem with the kind of post-fact, post-truth populism that we are increasingly seeing leaching into the political debate across Europe: it is there to serve only the purposes of the populist politicians that use it and offers little or no protection to the people with whom it so often strikes a chord.

Europe's food and farming sector has not been spared this type of populist rhetoric. For example, a distinct lack of facts about what it would actually mean for them is one of the reasons why so many farmers voted in favour of Brexit. This same rhetoric is being used to persuade the French farming community that they are better off freed from the 'shackles' of Europe.

It's an attempt to convince farmers with nothing more than sound-bites and slogans: a bright new world , free from red-tape and paperwork, with more national money for everyone and a guarantee that the rest of the world is queuing up to buy their products even if they don't want to buy anything from the rest of the world in exchange.

Like their British counterparts, many French farmers are being seduced by this fact-free promise of trouble-free farming outside the CAP. Because this is the basic premise being put forward by Mrs Le Pen - Europe is the problem, not the solution, and everyone, especially farmers, would be better off outside the EU.

British farmers are slowly waking up to the new reality of Brexit. The British government has clearly indicated that they should not expect the same levels of income support under a renationalised farm policy, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that their exports will not be subject to higher tariffs once they are outside the single market and the EU's free trade agreements.

This was why I chose to focus my conversations with the French dairy farmers I met in Langres on 'busting' some of the myths about EU farm policy and sharing a few truths about how it has helped them over the years - and continues to do so. I reassured them that the European Union will always stand by its farmers.

France is one of the EU's biggest exporters of agri-food products, selling €38 billion to the EU market and €23 billion to third countries. The trade balance for French agri-food was a surplus of €15 billion in 2015. A great deal of this is thanks to the quality reputation of French food (and European food in general) around the world - a reputation that has been boosted by direct support for French farmers from the EU. French farmers will receive over €9 billion a year in CAP support until 2020.

Losing this support would have a massive impact on this key export sector and on small family farms, especially if it was accompanied by a 'France first' style trade policy that some are pushing.

Why would third countries, including France's former partners in the EU, continue to buy French produce that would undoubtedly be more expensive than before, especially if there was no reciprocal demand for non-French products? Would French producers of Camembert, Champagne, or any of the other hundreds of protected foodstuffs made in France be able to fight off competition from abroad as they do now thanks to their EU membership? Would the many thousands of small -to-medium family farms that dominate the French farming scene get the same level of support from a national farm policy as they do from the EU - not just in terms of direct income support, but in more EU-wide action such as the current milk production reduction scheme which pays farmers to voluntarily cut their output across Europe in order to boost overall market prices, for the benefit of all? Where will the money come from if farm supports are to be maintained in a "France First" scenario?

When politicians sell dreams that that are completely unconnected to facts or reality, they must be challenged and those dreams not allowed to turn into an unforeseen nightmare.

If there is one thing that 60 years of the European Union (and 55 years of the CAP) has taught us, it is that facing an uncertain future is much easier if you are part of a big family than sitting outside on your own. Every challenge that has been thrown at the EU - in farming or in any other subject - has been met by the EU working together and showing mutual solidarity, rather than isolation

We may not always get it right first time. But the EU has constantly evolved and reformed since its inception, and it continues to do so today.

That's why, rather than being seduced by the easy-to-make, difficult-to-fulfil promises of some politicians, farmers in France (and elsewhere) should instead take their future in their own hands and have their say on the future of food and farming in the EU by taking part in our ongoing consultation on simplifying and modernising farm policy.

A more flexible, sustainable, supportive common agricultural policy will do much more to ensure the future of French farming, and the many jobs and livelihoods it supports, than the empty promises peddled by some politicians.