Faced with the challenges of climate change and the public health problems posed by the use of pesticides, Europe must now rebuild its food sovereignty, according to socialist lawmaker Eric Andrieu.
The reform of the EU’s main farming programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), is currently at the trilogue stage, meaning that interinstitutional negotiations are undergoing between ministers and MEPs.
Talks are currently stuck on the thorny issue of the strategic plans, one of the core aspects of the CAP reform and the main bone of contention with the Commission.
Through these plans, countries will set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives using CAP instruments while responding to the specific needs of their farmers and rural communities.
With the EU executive keen to ensure that strategic plans are able to deliver on the Green Deal, many stakeholders and lawmakers questioned the real contribution of the CAP reform currently under discussion to achieving the objectives of the EU’s flagship environmental policy.
“But behind this priority, there is another important one, which is rebuilding European food sovereignty,” said Andrieu.
Andrieu sits at the negotiating table representing the Parliament on an important portion of the EU’s farming subsidies programme, the common organisation of agricultural markets (CMO).
This governs the production and trading of agricultural products in the European Union, including food of both animal and plant origin.
According to Andrieu, the Parliament voted an ambitious negotiating mandate on the CMO and it is now time for the Council to take full account of these proposals during the trilogues.
“The Parliament’s mandate on food sovereignty is ultimately fully in line with the Commission’s new doctrine of open strategic autonomy,” he said, adding that agriculture must also be at the heart of the ongoing review of EU trade policy.
For the socialist MEP, the amendments backed by the Parliament in October are an attempt to avoid fragmentation of the common market and the renationalisation of the CAP.
“The alternative is no longer between food sovereignty or lack of food sovereignty, it is between European food sovereignty and national food sovereignty,” he said.
Gastro-nationalism on the rise
The French lawmaker warned about the rising number of initiatives pushing what some are starting to call ‘gastro-nationalism’ or ‘food nationalism’ that could jeopardise the single market in the long run.
“Calling on the patriotism of consumers to support the income of national farmers, for instance by using flags on food packaging, can be regarded as the ‘zero-point’ of a common agricultural policy,” he said.
“And rebuilding food sovereignty is also not synonymous for autarchy,” he continued.
He mentioned the fact that, even after Brexit, the EU remains a net importer of agricultural products in volume terms, meaning that Europeans can still have the chance to raise higher environmental and social standards when negotiating with trading partners.
He stressed that the EU must be able to assert that the imported products respect the same health, social and environmental rules as applied to European producers.
“Failing this, there will be no social progress in the rural areas while any increase in our standards will result in an increase in imported pollution, which will have simply shifted the problem,” Andrieu added.
Addressing food sovereignty also depends on improving crisis management capacities preserving agricultural production and being able to solve overproduction crises when they occur.
“Adjusting supply by lowering prices does not work by itself and must be accompanied since agriculture is both heavy industry and a sector where the production link is highly fragmented,” he said.
Lastly, the issue of food stocks should not be a taboo any longer according to Parliament’s negotiator, as food security depends on security stocks as much as on trade. “We need to better monitoring stock levels, requiring more transparency if necessary,” he concluded.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]