The task of explaining the main differences and divergences that exist between the French and German approach to agricultural policy is but one of the many tasks falling to Susanne Schlaack, Senior Advisor for Agriculture at the German embassy in Paris. It is a job that requires a thorough knowledge of the issues facing the two countries and experience in the subtleties of diplomacy.
Agriculture Internationale - What are your main missions as First Councillor for Agriculture at the German embassy in Paris?
Susanne Schlaack - I liaise between France and Germany for all questions relating to agriculture. Nowadays, of course, the ministers and ministries of the two countries contact each other directly. My job consists in explaining in France the principles of German agricultural policy, the structures of our agricultural system and the decisions taken in this sphere, etc. It is also essential to observe French policy and understand France's position, the decisions it takes and the reasons behind them and to identify topical and sensitive agricultural subjects.
Taking note of these and then explaining them in Berlin is an important part of my work. In the sphere of agriculture in particular, where there are many divergences between our countries, it is useful to have a mediator.
I am, moreover, President of the Amicale de Paris, an association that brings together the agricultural attachés from the embassies of accredited countries in the French capital, which enables me to maintain close relationships with the key players on the agricultural stage in Paris and discuss important subjects with them as well as keeping abreast of current thinking, developments and trends here in France. Members of the Amicale de Paris include the countries of the European Union, as well as the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Russia, Japan, China, Australia and New Zealand and many African States. Above all, our network constitutes a mine of contacts with the agricultural community in Paris. Our work relies heavily on our links with the French ministers, institutes, federations, agricultural cooperatives and chambers of agriculture. The Amicale is, above all, a forum for intense debates on the agricultural challenges of our time.
A.I. - German pragmatism is sometimes compared to a French approach that is considered more "subjective". In your opinion, what are the most significant differences between the German and French agricultural models?
S.Sch. - Yes, the French and German agricultural models are indeed very different. France counts above all on the quality and diversity of its products and on the maintenance of small agricultural structures to guarantee the variety of its agricultural produce. In Germany, we focus our attention more on the market and we have therefore pointed all the CAP reforms in this direction.
We consider the farmer to be an entrepreneur who must find his own place in the market and whose competitiveness relies on his own strategic decisions. He alone is responsible for the prosperity of his farm. This means he must think ahead in order to be able to deal with crises and bad years. But he is also the first to benefit from the wise decisions he takes and if production conditions are favourable, of the profits made.
In Germany, the freedom of the markets plays a far more important role than in France. The State does not intervene in contractual negotiations between producers and distributors and does not fix prices or quotas. The State pays a grant to farmers who are starting out and opens doors to opportunities, in particular in third country markets, which entrepreneurs must then seize for themselves. But I insist on one aspect that seems essential to me, which is that an agricultural model must suit the country to which it is applied.
What is good for Germany is not necessarily good for France. In other words, this means that the German agricultural model is the fruit of the cultural, structural and political history of our country. I often tell the French that our focus on the market is not without its negative aspects. Admittedly, we produce large quantities that we export successfully. We are competitive thanks to our agricultural model, our food processing sector and our trade. It seem justified, however, to ask whether we are not losing sight of something that France stands for.
The impressive diversity of the agricultural products that France manages to produce thanks to an agricultural system characterised by regional particularities and small farms is its trademark and an invaluable asset. I would like to see France succeed, in a global economy centred on the optimisation of profit, in preserving that which constitutes the wealth of its agriculture despite the need for it to make up ground in the matter of competitiveness.
A.I. - It is often claimed that the cost of labour in the agricultural sector is lower in Germany than in France. Is this really the case?
S.Sch. - This debate is very familiar to me because it is something I am often asked. Firstly, it should be noted that Germany has no legal minimum wage at national level. The State does not intervene in fixing salaries. By virtue of our autonomy principle, managers and workers negotiate minimum salaries independently, sector by sector. For example, the average hourly salary of a skilled agricultural worker amounted to 9.92 euros in 2010 in Germany, and that of an unskilled worker to 8.76 euros. By way of comparison, the national hourly minimum wage in France in 2010 stood at 8.86 euros.
The difference is therefore not as flagrant as is often claimed. Moreover, if we are able to take advantage of the flexibility of our labour market, it is precisely because we have no national minimum salary. This enables us, within the legal framework of the availability of temporary workers and the secondment of workers, to employ foreign labour, mostly from Eastern Europe, for hourly labour or corporate contracts in accordance with European law. But it does not engender unfair competition since the average level of remuneration in German agriculture is to all intents and purposes, the same as in France.
A.I. - Germany and France are united in the defence of a strong CAP, the continuation of direct payments to farmers and planting rights for vines. In your opinion, is the "Franco-German tandem" sufficiently synchronised to maintain its course despite the dissenting voices of those who would like to see it fall apart?
S.Sch. - France and Germany work in close cooperation and in a climate of great trust, particularly where the debate on the reform of the CAP is concerned. With this solid base as its foundation, our tandem is working for a strong CAP. Moreover, the excellent cooperation which has been established between the former French minister, Bruno Le Maire and his German counterpart, Ilse Aigner, is continuing successfully with the new Minister of Agriculture, Stéphane Le Foll. The regular publication of joint declarations and orientation documents are proof of this as are the ministers' many Franco-German working groups, which are in permanent contact. Let us not forget either the close collaboration between our professional agricultural organisations, FNSEA and the German Farmers' Federation. Again, very recently, on 9 October last, Monsieur Le Foll and Madame Aigner emphasised in a joint communiqué, the importance of the CAP for growth, employment, the environment and innovation in the European Union.
Paris and Berlin are in agreement on a series of points
The need to maintain the European Union's agricultural budget at the nominal level for 2013 for the period 2014-2020.
The possibility of closing of the gaps to a certain extent in the level of direct payments between the member-states on condition that this is reasonable and gradual.
The need to leave behind historic reference points and for progressive internal convergence between the direct payments of the first pillar.
The importance of measures in favour of the environment (greening) to strengthen the legitimacy of the CAP and protect the environment and the landscapes, since these measures must be implemented with enough flexibility to guarantee their pragmatic application.
The need to consolidate the economic power of the producers in the supply chain.
A joint attachment to planting rights for vines and the need to prolong sugar quotas until 2020.
Despite their very different agricultural models, our two countries have shown that they always manage to find the common ground that allows them to influence decisions in Brussels that will lead to a financially well-endowed CAP after 2014.