The European rural model
[ Index ]
Defending the European rural
and agricultural model at the WTO
by Doriane GIVORD
If we are to take full advantage of the potential
of the rural world and recognise the socio-economic
but also historical and cultural importance of
agriculture in rural Europe, the multifunctional
nature of European agriculture must be maintained.
On 27 September 1999, in its conclusions on the "Millennium
Round" adopted by unanimity, the Council of Ministers for
Agriculture underlined that the protection of the European
agricultural world was of fundamental importance for the European
Union given the multifunctional nature of European agriculture and
the role that it plays in the economy and society as a whole.
Defending the European agricultural model as an essential objective
in the multilateral trade negotiations, is a strong political
statement expressing the distinctiveness and importance of the
European agricultural and rural model for European society as a
whole. It is recognition that the debate on agricultural and rural
policies cannot be limited to an exclusively technical kind. It also
promotes the European agricultural and rural model on the
international scene, a model that reflects the specific history,
cultures and choices of European society and which is therefore not
Are these not just words? Would defending this European model not
just be protectionism in disguise as some of our trading rivals
Nothing is further from the truth. Political recognition at the
highest level of the need to preserve this European agricultural and
rural model is sincere. It echoes the concerns of our society and
the socio-economic changes of a world increasingly affected by the
globalisation of trade, a world where the search for and assertion
of identities are perhaps especially strong because our societies
are increasingly torn between the international and local levels.
The demonstrations at the ministerial conference in Seattle in
November and December 1999 or, to refer to a figure symbolic of the
French and European agricultural and rural world, the interest
roused by the actions and positions of José Bové, are living
testimony of this.
What is "multifunctional" agriculture?
"Agricultural model vs. European rural model"; "rural vs. agri".
These two terms, which in the past sometimes seemed to be at odds
with one another or at least compete with one another, are today
totally complementary. Politically speaking, Agenda 2000 dispelled
any ambiguity by making rural development the second pillar of the
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This integration, sanctioned at
the political and legal level, is also to be found in the promotion
of the concept of "multifunctional agriculture".
A concept recognised internationally
A lot of ink has flown since the official international recognition
of the term. Multifunctionality has thus been the subject of work
and discussions by the specialised bodies and institutions of the
United Nations (notably the United Nations Environment Programme -
particularly the work of the Committee for Sustainable Development
and Agenda 21; and the Food and Agriculture Organisation).
Similarly, after the agriculture ministers of its member countries
officially recognised the multifunctional nature of agriculture at
the ministerial conference in Paris in March 1998, the Organisation
for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recently began work
to analyse this concept. Finally, discussions held at the World
Trade Organisation (WTO) as part of the process to analyse and share
information and ending in December 1999, enabled the European Union
and other members to present their view of the concept. This will
help pave the way for the next debates at the trade negotiations on
The "Friends" of multifunctionality
With Japan, Korea, Norway and Switzerland, the European Union has
set up the - informal - group of "Friends of multifunctionality".
These countries all recognise the fact that agriculture has several
roles in addition to the production of agricultural goods and food.
They consider that because of this distinctive feature, agriculture
deserves special treatment in international trade negotiations in
order to preserve the roles that agriculture plays for the
environment, for rural landscapes and also for rural development.
The countries that are "friends" of multifunctionality do not,
however, have a monolithic view of the concept. They accept certain
differences in the definition that each country can give, reflecting
its history, its culture and also its level of development. So,
multifunctionality is not the privilege of a club of rich nations.
It also concerns developing countries whose agricultural sector must
be able to fully assume its role in the development of rural areas
and in so doing in the fight against poverty. This "conceptual
diversity" as well as the crucial link between multifunctional
agriculture and rural development are one of the main conclusions of
the conference on non-trading concerns which took place in Norway in
July 2000. It was organised by the Friends of Multifunctionality and
brought together some forty countries, thirty four of which were
The major exporters of agricultural commodities and food products,
the Cairns group and the United States, have repeatedly
questioned the intentions of those defending this concept, which
they claim is a pretext for maintaining protectionist agricultural
That is an incorrect and simplistic interpretation of the debate on
multifunctionality, which sounds like a refusal to recognise that
the definition of agricultural and rural policies cannot simply be
reduced to the economic and commercial sphere but has also to do
with wider questions and choices of society. As the negotiators of
the European Union have constantly repeated, it is therefore
necessary in the multilateral trade negotiations on agriculture,
which officially began in January 2000, to take full account of the
so-called non-commercial aspects, which include in particular the
multifunctional nature of agriculture.
An attempted definition
But how does Europe see multifunctional agriculture? Where is the
connection with the European rural model?
Simply stated and at the risk of repeating ourselves,
multifunctional agriculture is not just about the production of
agricultural goods and food. It is also an agricultural activity
that fulfils others purposes, other functions.
The European Union is 44% farmland but an additional percentage
consists of other areas maintained by farmers in the countryside
(wooded areas, natural areas, buildings and infrastructures). These
farmers, along with other people working in rural areas, therefore
manage over half of Europe's territory. Consequently, there is an
obvious link between agriculture, rurality and territory and the
non-market functions of agriculture are patent.
Thus in the European Union, agriculture contributes to the
preservation, maintenance and development of landscapes.
Furthermore, rural roads, green areas, woods and other elements of
the landscape and rural heritage are increasingly fulfilling a
Farming also contributes to environmental protection by preserving
biodiversity, managing biotopes in an integrated way, retaining
soils and maintaining the quality of water. What is more, it helps
prevent certain natural risks thanks, for example, to grazing and
the clearance of underbrush, which prevents fires, to the
maintenance of river banks and small hydraulic structures or to the
replanting of hedgerows.
Because farming is first of all tied to the land, it being above all
an action affecting the natural environment, agriculture and the
environment are closely linked. Furthermore, it is scientifically
recognised that in rural Europe the working of the land over several
decades and quite often several centuries has produced very special
and extremely rich ecosystems, which would be irremediably
threatened if agriculture were abandoned.
Of course, it would be absurd to deny the devastating role that
certain farming practices have had, and in some cases continue to
have, on the environment. It should nonetheless be recalled that the
European Union has gradually built up a legal arsenal to fight
against pollution and promote more environmentally-friendly farming
practices. The inclusion of environmental protection requirements in
the definition and implementation of Community policies is,
moreover, since the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty, a legal
obligation for the Union, an obligation strengthened following the
entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty on 1 May 1999.
is thus a continuation and deepening of the "greening" of the CAP.
The objective is to have European farmers comply with minimum
environmental requirements and to encourage them to go further,
meaning to adopt practices beneficial to the environment.
Agriculture also plays a role in the development of rural areas,
particularly in the areas of the European Union where farming
remains one of the foundations of the local economy. Because of its
decisive hold over the land and the fact that it perpetuates certain
practices, agriculture plays an essential role in regional planning
and in the preservation of cultural assets and traditions (eg.
certain old rural buildings or concrete know how of the production
of typical products). This is at the heart of the interwoven
relationship between farming and rural development: the concrete
expression of what multifunctional agriculture is can be seen in the
synergies between farming and rural development, revealing in this
way our European rural model.
The European rural model and multifunctionality
The notion of rurality is generally defined on the basis of
population density, and according to this indicator nearly 80% of
the European Union is rural. In addition, with the transformation of
agriculture these past few decades and the wider socio-economic
changes affecting European society, the role of agriculture and
society's expectations of it are no longer the same. There is today
a growing demand for those non-market goods and services that
agriculture provides at lower cost and in addition to its primary
purpose of producing agricultural goods. In a way, LEADER's success
is testimony of this. The revival of old practices and traditional
local products, the success of green tourism and the interest in
local cultures and traditions are all proof of this.
Europeans want their countryside to remain a living place. The
European vision of rural development is not to create museums far
from cities, in the heart of rural areas, where people from the city
can spend their holiday admiring a landscape or discovering past
traditions. Nor should it evolve towards a world without country
folk where food is produced by a small number of owners of
Europeans are truly attached to the idea of preserving the extreme
wealth of farming activities and rural areas in the Union. The aim
is to maintain a living rural Europe, integrated in the economy
thanks to its resources and local initiatives. The ultimate aim is
to keep our areas alive.
This vision is not incompatible with competitive agriculture, which
is one of the objectives of the Common Agricultural Policy. Strictly
speaking, rural policy and agricultural policy are complementary.
This is clearly stated in Agenda 2000, which makes rural development
the second pillar of the CAP but does not limit it to agriculture.
These complementary policies are a response to the fact that the
economy of rural areas is becoming diversified and moving beyond
farming. Moreover, this diversification is encouraged in order to
strengthen the economic fabric of rural areas, weakened by
agriculture's transformation in the second half of the 20th century.
Thus what makes the European rural model so original is basically
the integration between these various activities; the awareness that
the development of rural areas must be planned in a holistic manner
by incorporating the economic, social and cultural dimensions; and
finally the recognition that this development is based on people, on
dynamic rural communities.
In short, if I were quite simply and in very concrete terms to
explain what the European model is to representatives of other
members countries of the WTO, who sometimes doubt our intentions, I
would take them on a trip across rural Europe. It would be a long
trip lasting several months, and we would visit one LEADER group
after another, from Scandinavia to Calabria, from Ireland to Crete
and would include the French overseas departments.
During our travels, as we discover areas of wide-ranging geography
and landscape, I would tell my guests all the different histories of
these territories. I would explain to them how these historical,
cultural and social developments have shaped rural areas and
communities. I would stress the variety of farming practices and the
place agriculture has in these areas not only because of its
contribution to their current economic fabric but also and perhaps
especially because of the "societal" importance it has had in
forming these lands. They will then understand that what makes the
European rural world so special is its diversity and legacy of a
long, rich and varied history.
But the European rural model is not just a precious memory preserved
in a showcase of landscapes. It is also a living and dynamic
The European countryside has visibly suffered to differing degrees
from the unprecedented transformation of these past decades.
Agricultural practices and structures have radically changed, and
the rural exodus has been on an impressive scale, even leading to
desertification in some areas. The socio-economic horizon of the
countryside has been bleak. But little by little, rural areas have
been regaining hope from development, even if a lot still remains to
be done. This has been achieved with the mobilisation of the people
living in rural areas, with the intervention of the public
authorities backed by European Community policies from the mid-1980s
and with a growing demand from our societies for a better
environment, beautiful landscapes, living villages and quality
That is therefore what the European rural model is: an incredibly
rich heritage coupled with local development initiatives implemented
by rural communities, both of which are supported by a strong
political will to bring rural areas out of their isolation and to
develop them; in other words, to give them their chance.
If we are to take full advantage of the potential of the rural world
and recognise the socio-economic as well as the historical and
cultural importance of agriculture in rural Europe, the
multifunctional nature of European agriculture must be maintained.
That is why the European Union has repeatedly explained to its
partners that, although it too wants greater participation in the
world trade of agricultural products and food, it refuses to limit
negotiations to discussions of a purely technical nature.
The European agricultural and rural model is not negotiable. It
reflects the choice of our society, the choice for a living and
dynamic rural Europe.
A model to be exported, perhaps...
[*] Doriane Givord is an administrator at the Directorate for
International Relations of the Directorate-General for Agriculture
of the European Commission. She is responsible for the preparation
of the multinational agricultural negotiations. She was previously
in charge of the LEADER II Initiative.
This article does not necessarily reflect the views of the European
Ed.: name given to the round of negotiations
of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) launched in Seattle in
Ed.: made famous by the symbolic dismantling
of a "fast food" restaurant in Millau (France) in the
summer of 1999 and by the international echo that his
positions had in Seattle in November-December of the
same year, this sheep farmer from Aveyron is militating
against the rampant globalisation of "bad food" and the
excesses of industrial agriculture.
Set up in 1986, the "Cairns Group" is a
coalition currently comprising 18 farm exporting
countries, ie. Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil,
Canada, Chili, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji, Guatemala,
Indonesia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Paraguay,
the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand and Uruguay.
This coalition advocates a total liberalisation of
agricultural trade and policies.
source: LEADER Magazine nr.25 - Winter 2000/2001