Observers like Jack Thurston have picked up signs of a change in the French stance on the CAP for some time. But now President Nicholas Sarkozy has promised to initiate a fundamental debate about its purpose next year when France takes over the EU's rotating presidency. Using words never used by a French president before to a farming audience, he told farmers at a cattle fair near Rennes that they had to learn to make a living from market prices rather than subsidies.
It's a change from the days when Jacques Chirac was de facto farm minister, but before we get too excited a reading of his speech suggests that he envisages the continuation of subsidies by other but more legitimate and acceptable means.
He framed a partly free market message with a demand for more EU wide protection for a sector he described as 'an essential pillar' of the French economy. The EU should set a goal of 'stabilising markets' in agricultural goods, one that, of course, it has had since the Treaty of Rome. It would do this by re-establishing the principle of 'community preference', although he did not spell out what this would mean in practice.
He said that a reformed CAP would need to meet four objectives: ensure food security for Europe (groan); contribute to a growing global demand for food; preserve rural economies and landscapes; and help combat climate change.