This paper examines the French distribution of agricultural direct payments. It makes clear the institutional channels which aim at redistributing a past-price-policy support. Within the present European common framework, the Member States have the competency in partially retaining or altering the distribution of CAP payments. When setting up a post-2013 CAP, equity lingers a burning topic – with a growing number of actors from environmentalist to rural non-agricultural stakeholders.
Two case studies provide some evidence on the 1992-2012 French experience: a broad picture, then a specific one. They impose on themselves three sound assumptions: (i) reforming direct payment cannot be driven by equity considerations but public policy efficiency – especially when contemplating the diversity of French agriculture; (ii) distribution of support has to be considered in line with policy objectives – but remains frequently incoherent as illustrated with support to irrigating structures and quantitative water management; (iii) the partial redistribution of support which result from the 2008 CAP health check shows that France conservatism progressively declines since a re-legitimised CAP is a way to preserve direct payments.
France develops a hybrid historical model when attempting to renew with a strong first pillar mostly with targeted subsidies. It grants to first pillar a rural development dimension and magnifies related-responsibilities attributed to national authorities without bearing the co-funding principle. Hence it jeopardises the relevancy of CAP dichotomisation. This latter tends to exist only for historical and budgetary reasons and should be removed from 2013 – if considering that the rational (and related distribution) of European direct payments should shift from income to amenity support.