The money saved by subsidy cuts will be diverted into the rural development budget, Fischer Boel says, but this plan directly pits the UK against France. The UK sees rural development – money to revitalise rural areas and environments in a diverse range of sectors and not just farming – as the future of European agriculture. France, though, believes agriculture is the ‘cornerstone’ of rural Europe, and must be sustained financially. Fischer Boel also wants to extend ‘decoupling’ of payments to farms, breaking the link between subsidies and production levels. That system has in past decades prompted farmers to produce mountains of surplus wheat and other produce. However, many member states want to maintain a number of coupled payments in order to support specific sectors of farming. Current intervention systems, which enable farmers too sell stock into EU reserves if they cannot get a decent price for their produce on the market, should be turned into a “genuine safety net”, Fischer Boel says. For durum wheat, rice, pig meat, cheese, butter for pastry and ice-cream, storage systems should be abolished, she adds. France is likely to argue to maintain some such support systems so that Europe can cope with the type of squeezes on food supplies that Europe is currently experiencing. Other countries, such as Austria, say coupled payments are needed to support farmers in more remote areas.The ‘health check’ also envisages the abolition of the energy-crop scheme, which pays a €45 per hectare subsidy to farmers who produce crops for biofuels. Set-aside – the obligation on farmers to leave 10% of their land to fallow – will also be wiped off the EU rule book.Other proposals contained in the ‘health check’ are likely to prove less controversial. These include measures to simplify farm payments, allow countries to change the way farm payments are calculated (from a system based on past production levels, to a flat-rate regional payment), and make less burdensome the system of ‘cross compliance’, environmental rules that farmers must comply with before they can receive their subsidies. Mariann Fischer Boel, the European commissioner for agriculture, will unveil her proposals to shake up the EU’s farming sector on 20 May, amid a storm over how much the EU’s farm subsidy system is contributing to the current surge in food prices.Fischer Boel will present her already revised proposal for the CAP ‘health check’ to MEPs in Strasbourg and will suggest trimming farm payments. That proposal, however, will in June meet with strong opposition from a large number of EU agriculture ministers anxious to defend farm subsidies when the ‘health check’ is discussed at the next Farm Council in June. France, the staunchest defender of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), says that the multibillion-euro system is needed more than ever before to secure European food supplies. The opposing camp, fronted by the UK, says that the CAP is a factor driving up food prices.In her revised proposals, Fischer Boel outlines plans to cut direct subsidies to individual farms, under the Single Farm Payment scheme, by 22%. In her original plans, circulated in November last year, she envisaged a reduction of 45%.