Does the average European citizen support EU farmers?

The latest EU-wide Eurobarometer survey of public opinion about the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) show that just over 60% of respondents believe that the CAP benefits all citizens and not just farmers.

The survey of over 28,000 EU citizens in 28 member states was carried out in early December 2017 and, among the main findings which were published last week, is the acknowledgement that a clear majority of citizens (55%) see “providing safe, healthy and good quality food” as one of the main responsibilities of farmers.

This, unsurprisingly, is considered the single most important role played by farmers in every EU country, according to the survey.

Some 88% of respondents think that strengthening the farmers’ role in the food chain is important.

Reflecting this concern, the European Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development has committed to bring forward legislative proposals later this year.

On a national level, the survey shows that – in almost half of EU member states – there is clear support for European action to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers

CAP priorities

When asked about the priorities for the CAP, 62% of respondents said that “providing safe, healthy and good quality food” should be the top priority for the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP); this is up 6% since 2015.

Reflecting the increasing emphasis on CAP’s contribution to the environment and climate challenge, 50% of citizens said that “protecting the environment and tacking climate change” should be the main objective of the CAP, which is another 6% increase since the last similar survey in 2015.

Meanwhile, 45% of respondents thought that the level of financial support given to farmers under CAP was “about right”, which is up 4% on the 2015 figure and is four times the number that believe that the level of support is “too high”; it is also significantly above the number that believes it is “too low”.

A considerable number of respondents (44%) also said they would like to see an increase in EU financial support for farmers over the next 10 years.

EU food standards

Of note, particularly in light of the Mercosur deal concerns, there are mixed views on food imports from outside the union.

Some 87% of respondents said that imports of any origin should only be allowed to enter the EU if they comply with EU standards, a sentiment shared by a majority of citizens in 18 of the 28 EU countries.

The majority of citizens also believe that protecting the European market from sub-standard products is also sufficient justification for trade barriers in the agricultural sector.

Worryingly however, if trade barriers are put in place, most respondents also consider that they should not apply to developing countries and that the EU should continue to support farmers and food producers in those countries through its trade policy.

The majority of the Mercosur trade bloc – including Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay – are all currently listed as developing countries.

Support for EU trade policy in general is high. A majority of respondents said they considered that trade agreements between the EU and other countries had been good for agriculture in the EU and good for them as consumers.

If a Mercosur deal is put through in a manner that is feared, this could well change.