The declaration by the Taoiseach and President Macron of France that the Mercosur deal with the four South American countries is not acceptable in its present format marks a watershed in the European realisation that farming in Europe can only withstand so much pressure before exploding.
France is not an easy country to govern and the recent protests by farmers there, while they mirrored similar demonstrations across Europe, have clearly struck a political chord. How much change is there going to be?
Does Ireland have any strategic view as to how they want the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to develop?
Now is the time, as consideration is being given to the future shape of the CAP, to form a coherent view of farming’s place in a modern European economy.
We talk about the family farm model. But a one-person family farm is ill-equipped to deal with the range of detailed skills and knowledge required to meet modern demands.
The online requirements for the range of direct payments, the submission of detailed nutrient management plans, as well as the compilation of detailed records of types and application rates of animal medicines, as well as plant protection products, let alone the intricacies of TAMS applications along with onerous environmental conditions, all require different scientific and technical skills.
National administrations and the EU Commission have trained specialists in these different fields and impose requirements that match their individual specialities.
As farmers, we then end up paying professionals from accountants to environmental and technical consultants to ensure we comply with ever more complex regulations, while also trying to ensure that we carry out the primary job of farming to earn a living and produce food.
On top of that, there is the constant market pressures that drive down real prices.
While we have appointed a regulator, the powers are limited and the one measure that imposed real discipline on retailers – the ban on below cost selling – has been abolished here for some years, and more recently in Germany.
To reframe fundamental policy is not easy, but it is clear that a basic reappraisal of European agricultural and environmental policy is needed.
The French call their Department the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty. The core question is what should food sovereignty mean in a European context?