France’s CAP plan ‘only partially’ supports green transition, Commission says

States, including France, must "strengthen the resilience of the agricultural sector", "reduce its dependence on synthetic fertilisers" and "increase the production of renewable energy", according to the Commission.

The European Commission expressed reservations about France’s national strategic plan, saying it did not meet the environmental commitments of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), according to an observation letter. EURACTIV France reports.

The letter, sent on 31 March and seen by EURACTIV, called out the French government for not meeting the CAP’s environmental standards.

Last week, the Commission sent observation letters to the 19 member states who submitted their plans on time (see below for more details on CAP plans). The letter focuses on the strengths and weaknesses in each plan, suggesting areas for improvement.

The Commission also said it would give EU countries time to react and adapt their plans.

This detailed 30-page report, first published by the media outlet Contexte on 4 April, recalls the NSP’s main objectives for implementing the future CAP between 2023 and 2027.

EU countries, including France, must “strengthen the resilience of the agricultural sector”, “reduce its dependence on synthetic fertilisers”, and “increase the production of renewable energy”, according to the Commission, which cites the current war in Ukraine, the climate and biodiversity crises as key challenges.

France should also “transform its production capacity by promoting more sustainable production methods,” the letter added.

While acknowledging France’s efforts in terms of the resilience of the various sectors, the report is very critical of the NSP, which “only partially supports the ecological transition of the agricultural and forestry sectors”.

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Greenhouse gases, animal welfare, water

Among the 20 areas for improvement, the Commission notes the lack of ambition concerning the limitation of greenhouse gas emissions in livestock farming, despite the significant public support for the sector.

The letter criticises France for having taken “no significant measures to improve animal welfare, in particular, to encourage the rearing of pigs without tail docking and unconfined rearing systems for laying hens, calves and sows.”

On water protection, France is “invited to review the level of support for water protection and fertiliser management objectives upwards” to contribute effectively to the objectives of the Water Framework Directive (WFD).

France has also been called upon to increase investment in the “effective reduction of water consumption in agriculture (…) in order to achieve the objectives of the WFD and to adapt agriculture to climate change.”

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Eco-schemes and new labels

On eco-schemes, the European executive regrets that organic crops and those with High Environmental Value (HVE ) labels are rewarded in the same way – an issue widely discussed recently.

The HVE label has been strongly criticised since its integration into the French NSP, as its specifications are much less restrictive than organic farming.

Thus, France has been advised to “differentiate the levels of remuneration” and propose a “third level of payment to reward farmers for adopting the most virtuous practices.”

According to the Commission, the budget for the climate and environmental measures in the CAP’s second pillar, devoted to rural development, is “the lowest of all the strategic plans formally submitted”.

CAP plan drafts fall short of environmental ambitions, says Commissioner

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plans currently leave a lot to be desired, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who said the majority fall short of the EU executive’s environmental ambitions.

Pesticides, digital matters

On pesticides, Brussels said it welcomes France’s ambition to half the amount of chemical pesticides by 2025 stated in the government’s Ecophyto II plan. By comparison, the EU’s flagship Farm to Fork strategy calls for a 50% reduction in pesticides by 2030.

However, this is not enough, according to the Commission.

France must “clarify in the plan the targets for reducing the use of pesticides (especially the most dangerous ones),” according to the EU executive. France is also encouraged “to increase the ambition of measures contributing to crop diversification (…) to better promote the implementation of crop rotation throughout the country,” the Commission added.

The Commission also bemoaned France’s NSP for having few “actions aimed at accelerating the digital transition”. France must provide the means to achieve the European objective of internet connectivity for all farmers, it added.

Association response

The letter has prompted reactions from many organisations, pleased that the European Commission has taken up their demands.

The ‘Pour une Autre PAC’ collective recalled its desire for a “revision” of the national strategic plan before its final approval.

“France […] will really have to review its copy in-depth in order to respond to the weaknesses that have been widely denounced (…) for months,” the organisation wrote in a press release published on 5 April.

According to farmers’ union Confédération Paysanne, “this is a stinging setback for the minister of agriculture who has supported this project from beginning to end.”

National strategic plans should nevertheless be wrapped by June, European Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski explained on 21 March, adding that the Commission would work closely with the EU countries to improve plans’ ‘shortcomings’.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

National strategic plans (NSPs) are one of the main novelties of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will run from 2023-2027.

Through these plans, EU countries detail how they will meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP while responding to the needs of farmers and rural communities.

In other words: While the European Commission will be setting out the general direction of the future CAP, the “how” will be up to national administrations this time.

Member states had until the end of 2021 to submit their national plans to the Commission for its approval, a process which is currently underway.

For more information on the CAP reform, see EURACTIV's coverage.

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