While not very known to the public, Marc Fesneau, who will take over France’s renamed Ministry of Agriculture and Food Sovereignty, is respected in the field but has been criticised for his past record on animal welfare. EURACTIV France reports.
The previous mayor of the small town of Marchenoir and minister delegate in charge of relations with parliament, Fesneau, was appointed on 20 May to head France’s newly named ministry by freshly appointed Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.
Fesneau has long impressed the farming sector despite not being very known to the general public.
“I know Fesneau’s attachment to agriculture and rural territories,” Christiane Lambert, president of the national federation of farmers’ unions (FNSEA), told FranceInfo on 20 May.
The whole sector recognises his “good knowledge of the issues,” she added.
A history in agriculture
In his handover speech on 21 May, Fesneau said he has a “personal, family and professional fondness” for agriculture. The new agriculture minister’s father was a farmer and technical advisor at the agriculture ministry in the 1980s.
Fesneau himself worked for a consulting firm that advised the agriculture ministry and held several key positions at the Loir-et-Cher Chamber of Agriculture. He became the director in charge of local development policies and European funds in 2000.
Food sovereignty focus
The ministry’s name also got a makeover by introducing the term “food sovereignty”.
The name change reflects the government’s new focus on boosting food independence at a national and EU level, which has become the executive’s priority due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine.
“These strategic challenges must be placed under the umbrella of a ‘minister of agriculture and food sovereignty,” the agriculture union wrote in a statement issued a few days before the government reshuffle.
“For agriculture, this is a major change” as it allows “short-term measures” to be replaced with “a policy that must guide the country’s action in environmental matters,” it added.
Fully incorporating agriculture into ecological planning is indeed at the heart of Macron’s plans for his new government, which aims to integrate environmental issues into the portfolios of all ministries.
Farmers’ income and market regulation
To restore food sovereignty, Fesneau said he would focus on ensuring “farmers make a living out of their work” at a farm in the Loir-et-Cher region on 22 May.
Combating unfair competition, including at the EU level, is also one of Fesneau’s focuses as he wants to revise the rules so that it is “not easier to produce elsewhere”.
To achieve this, Fesneau said he would push for setting up so-called “mirror clauses” to make certain products that are not authorised in the EU are not imported – a promise Macron has made during the French EU Council presidency.
“We must also rethink our economic model. We discovered that a large part of our fertilisers were made in a country at war,” Fesneau also said, adding that reducing reliance on other countries while maintaining strong exports is key.
He added that we must be able to feed countries like Egypt, Algeria, and Tunisia that need raw materials and face worrying food shortages, particularly wheat.
Glyphosate, animal welfare, hunting
However, environmental associations and far-left and green politicians were quick to point out the minister’s past actions.
For example, at the annual march against pesticides and agrochemicals on 22 May, France Insoumise leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon recalled that just like new Ecological Transition Minister Amélie de Montchalin, Fesneau has “restored the use of glyphosate”.
In 2018, Fesneau voted against the proposed amendment to ban glyphosate in parliament, saying that he preferred to work on “a comprehensive measure at the European level”, reported the newspaper La Nouvelle République.
However, most criticism levelled against the new minister relates to animal welfare.
Associations pointed to when Fesneau rejected various legislative amendments proposing to ban breeding chickens and rabbits in cages during his time as an MP.
Fesneau is also a practised bow hunter and opposed the proposal of Green leader Yannick Jadot to ban hunting on weekends and during school breaks.
He also called vegans “dangerous lunatics”, that triggered the anger of animal rights activists.
Over the coming months, Fesneau will have to continue talks on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and bring forward the important French law dedicated to the generational renewal of farmers.
Fesneau, who wants to prioritise the purchasing power of farmers, will also push French lawmakers to amend a bill to include a food voucher for the most vulnerable, as announced by the former government, “this coming summer”.
His arrival has also reassured Brussels. Fesneau is a convinced Europeanist who stated that “Europe is a beautiful horizon and a necessity” during the last European elections.
Fesneau, like the other ministers who were appointed last week, is running in the June legislative elections. If he is defeated, he must leave office according to a rule from 2007.
[Edited by Daniel Eck]
[Edited by Alice Taylor]