French candidates’ views on EU farming policies explained

The figures are striking: 55% of French farmers are now over 50 years old, and almost half of them will retire in ten years. [Esther Snippe]

Candidates in the French presidential elections presented their plans for the future of farming at February’s international agricultural show, the Salon de l’Agriculture. EURACTIV France looks at how these tie in with EU policy.

Macron’s focus on EU sovereignty

French President Emmanuel Macron – now up for re-election – was praised by many in the farming world for his role in last year’s negotiations for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will enter into force on 1 January 2023.

The new reform will pave the way for a fairer, greener and more performance-based CAP. It also provides greater autonomy for member states through the national strategic plans (NSP).

The buzzwords of Macron’s five-year term were food independence and sovereignty, which took on new importance when the pandemic hit and, more recently, the war in Ukraine.

To achieve this vision, the French leader is negotiating with the European Commission to reduce environmental restrictions laid out in the EU’s flagship food and farming policy, the Farm to Fork strategy.

While this strategy is not binding, it aims to reduce the use and risk of pesticides by half, slash the use of fertilisers by 20% and see 25% of land farmed organically by 2030.

Macron announced that he wanted to revise these EU objectives in his electoral programme presented on 17 March.

The French president also wants to adjust the EU’s Farm to Fork strategy, which is based on a world “before the war in Ukraine,” as it could result in a “13% reduction in production”, according to some recent studies.

“Europe cannot afford to produce less,” he stressed.

Macron wants to 'adapt' EU Farm to Fork to the post-Ukraine war world

France’s agriculture sector will aim for “agricultural independence”, prioritising productivity over sustainable farming goals in the EU’s Green Deal to cope with a post-Ukraine war Europe, French President Emmanuel Macron told a press conference Thursday (17 March).

Pécresse also prioritises sovereignty

Right-wing candidate Valérie Pécresse of Les Républicains also makes production a significant focus of her campaign.

Pécresse seems to be the most vocal candidate for the EU Farm to Fork strategy, echoing impact studies that predict a drop in European production, but also a 16% drop in agricultural income and a 17% rise in food prices.

This strategy, included in the European Green Deal, “plans the attrition of the European farm by drastically cutting its means of production by 2030”, she explained in a speech in Villers-le-Lac on 13 January.

Following Macron’s example, she intends to introduce “a real carbon tax at the European Union’s borders” and re-establish “environmental equity in our trade”.

Pécresse’s measure would impose additional customs tariffs when importing a product whose standards in the country of origin would be less restrictive than in the EU. She recalls that “15% of imported products still do not comply with them”.

French presidential election: Where does Europe fit into all this?

France took over the rotating EU Council presidency on 1 January, just a few months before the first round of the French presidential elections where Emmanuel Macron will seek reelection against mostly right-wing challengers.

Taking advantage of national plans

Far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of Rassemblement National has also criticised the Farm to Fork policy.

This “seriously threatens the food sovereignty of EU member states”, she explained in her programme. According to her, such constraints could increase imports and generate a social and environmental impact that would be “catastrophic”.

Eric Zemmour, another far-right candidate, considers the EU strategy an obstacle to France’s agricultural strength.

“It is in the interest of our farmers to cultivate, we must feed human beings […] We were the first exporting country, we are now only the third,” he said at the French Salon de l’Agriculture after Russia had invaded Ukraine.

But Le Pen did recognise national strategic plans as one of the positive elements in the latest CAP currently being negotiated. “This evolution of the CAP is a sign that the states are determined to take the destiny of their agriculture back into their own hands,” she said.

This increase in national aid will “restore our agricultural trade balance, which is increasingly threatened by low-end and sometimes fraudulent imports,” she said. Under Le Pen’s watch, the budget will mainly go towards breeding, the production of vegetable proteins, market gardening and arboriculture, she added.

The two far-right candidates also want to ban imports on agricultural products that do not respect French production standards – something nearly all candidates agree on.

However, while Le Pen wants to “exclude agriculture from the scope of free trade agreements” – with some “sectoral agreements” on certain products – Zemmour intends to end all current and future negotiations.

“We have to stop importing products that we don’t have the right to grow in France,” Zemmour said at the Salon de l’Agriculture. Le Pen also wants to “make the mention of origin mandatory”.

France pitches its carbon farming system as model for EU

As far as French agriculture minister Julien Denormandie is concerned, an EU framework for remunerating carbon farming should be modelled after France’s already existing voluntary scheme.

CAP for the environment 

Meanwhile, radical-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Green candidate Yannick Jadot want a profound agricultural, national, and European policy reform. Mélenchon has promised to modify the national strategic plan “by August 2022 at the latest”.

The two defend a CAP that would help in the ecological transition of agriculture – starting with redistributing the budget redistribution and putting an end to giving aid per hectare as is currently the case.

Mélenchon proposes to reduce aid to the largest farms by reducing the “aid per hectare” and introducing capping while doubling the budget allocated to small and medium-sized farms.

Jadot, however, wants aid to be conditioned on animal density to fight industrial farming, develop grassland systems, and cultivate legumes.

To stop imports and exports of raw materials that harm local farmers, he counts on “a system for reimbursing aid from the common agricultural policy”.

While all candidates want to develop and support organic farming, Mélenchon intends to double the budget for aid for the conversion and maintenance of organic farming – measures already provided for in the national strategic plan. He added that another part of the budget would be devoted to improving animal welfare and phasing out factory farming.

Mélenchon and Jadot are the only ones to commit to phasing out pesticides, advocating for a total EU ban by 2030 compared to the current 50% reduction provided in the EU strategy.

Macron presents sovereignty-focused programme

French President Emmanuel Macron, who recently confirmed his re-election bid, has presented the election programme that he hopes will create “an independent nation in a stronger Europe”.

At a press conference on Thursday (17 March), Macron proposed his vision for France, …

A ‘Common Agriculture and Food Policy’?

Communist candidate Fabien Roussel wishes to transform the CAP into a Common Agricultural and Food Policy, taking food and environmental needs into account.

Jean-Lassale, candidate for the party Résistons!, wants to redirect aid towards “farmers who respect their land and their animals, not land speculation or wasteland”.

Socialist candidate Anne Hidalgo, for her part, wants 30% organic farming by 2030.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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