Agriculture has fundamental role to play in fighting climate change, says French socialist MEP

"Until now, CAP money has gone to multinationals and the chemical industry. Clearly, the distribution of value is unbalanced in the food chain and benefits the downstream, not the upstream. In order to rebalance it, we must, therefore, also revalue the second pillar dedicated to rural development," according to French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu (S&D).

In an interview with EURACTIV’s partner, Le Journal de l’environnement, French socialist MEP Éric Andrieu (S&D) said that climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic make it necessary to put agriculture back at the heart of the debate and to change the agricultural model with targeted tools and resources.

Eric Andrieu has been an MEP since 2012. The French socialist was elected vice-chair of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group following the 2019 European elections.

Are the objectives of the European “Farm to Fork” strategy in line with the challenges posed by climate change and the environment?

It is indeed a step in the right direction in terms of reducing inputs and fertilisers, which is based on precise objectives. By wanting to develop food labelling, the European strategy is also interesting in terms of regaining a healthy and more nutrient-rich diet.

It should be noted that the presentation of the strategy was not a foregone conclusion. Conservative and liberal MEPs were in favour of postponing the strategy altogether, given that the tools and means available are not up to the task. The main tool for me is the common agricultural policy (CAP).

In this respect, I continue to oppose the proposal put forward by the European Commission.

I voted against this text because it is largely insufficient to achieve the objectives of the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, in particular the decoupling of aid per hectare, which does not allow production to be redirected.

There is, therefore, a tension between this strategy, which really calls for a change of model in terms of production and consumption, and an insufficient CAP.

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The European Commission also talks about promoting precision farming …

We have to be very clear. I support precision farming if it is conducive to restoring the quality of the soil and food. If its sole aim is to increase productivity at the expense of health, respect for biodiversity and air and water quality, it is a dead end.

For the time being, its purpose remains rather unclear.

How can the CAP be reconnected to these major climatic and environmental challenges?

The only positive element of the current proposal is the eco-scheme, a more ambitious cross-compliance of aid based on voluntary good practices by farmers. For the rest, re-nationalisation is very bad news.

There has never been a greater need for a common policy in Europe because agriculture must be put back at the heart of the societal debate.

Agriculture has a fundamental role to play in the fight against climate change and the recovery of biodiversity, and we cannot treat it as a world apart, as we have done for 50 years at European level, with the distribution of an envelope that the sector used to divide up.

That is why I am in favour of the Green Deal and the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy but opposed to any instrument of re-nationalisation.

We have two years ahead of us before the new CAP, which is due to be finalised at the end of 2021. We must use this time to engage in a major debate that will give agriculture new impetus.

What has COVID-19 changed for the EU's Farm to Fork Strategy?

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Should eco-conditionality be at the heart of this reform?

In my opinion, it is not the first criterion. It is unthinkable today that the Commission, in its proposal, makes no reference to market regulation tools. The COVID-19 crisis reveals this, but the dogmatic vision of the directorate-general for agriculture, and its link to liberalism, prevents it from changing the current agricultural model.

Above all, farmers must be guaranteed income within the framework of a medium- and long-term vision. Without a guarantee that markets and prices will be stabilised, farmers will not invest in the transition. That is the first thing to do.

Secondly, I expect the Commission to provide the means and tools needed to change the model. Of course, we must not reduce the CAP budget and provide financial support for farmers. With a change in the rules for direct payments to reduce the weight of aid per hectare and to enhance eco-conditionality by listing practices that are favourable to the environment.

Until now, CAP money has gone to multinationals and the chemical industry. Clearly, the distribution of value is unbalanced in the food chain and benefits the downstream, not the upstream. In order to rebalance it, we must, therefore, also revalue the second pillar dedicated to rural development. And if we recognise that agriculture is a major player, in the framework of a reappropriated food sovereignty, then we must give it the financial means to do so.

Is the EU’s economic recovery plan a missed opportunity?

It is still too early to say. This plan is heading in the right direction, even if the Commission is proposing a multi-annual framework €1,750 billion below the European Parliament’s proposal and closer to that of the Council. However, we still have to wait until tomorrow or the day after tomorrow to find out whether or not agriculture is receiving substantial sectoral aid.

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[Edited by Natasha Foote/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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