French CAP plan prioritises legumes, hedges and carbon farming

While some farmers say that the green transition of agriculture will require "substantial efforts", others regret that the NSP's environmental ambition is still too low. [wk1003mike/Shutterstock]

France’s national strategic plan for the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), submitted to the European Commission at the end of 2021, prioritises legume production, hedges, and carbon farming planting. While some find this “acceptable”, others see it as a “national strategic disappointment”. EURACTIV France reports.

Following the MEPs’ greenlight at the end of November, EU countries had until 31 December to send their roadmaps on achieving the objectives of the future CAP at the national level, known as national strategic plans (NSPs), to the Commission.

Unlike the nine countries that did not meet the deadline, France submitted its plan on 22 December.

France’s priorities

The priorities put forward by the ministry of agriculture include developing legume production, doubling organic farming areas by 2027, and creating synergies between crops and livestock.

Another key priority is encouraging various agro-ecological practices through the eco-scheme, a conditional aid designed to encourage farmers to adopt environmentally friendly practices.

In terms of agriculture’s “green” transition, France wants to use the resources of the future CAP to support the diversification of crops and the planting of hedges to favour biodiversity and carbon storage.

It also wants to preserve permanent grasslands, which, according to the ministry, are indispensable for preserving soils and “regulating the climate” through the sequestration of CO2.

According to the ministry, France is “fully” in line with the EU’s desire to set up a CAP aiming to stabilise farm incomes, guarantee food supplies for Europeans at “reasonable” prices, and support the agro-ecological transition.

However, just like during the run-up to the submission, the strategic choices made by Agriculture Minister Julien Denormadie continue to generate mixed reactions.

“Balance” vs “immobility”

France’s strategic plan does not address all the concerns of France’s main farming union (FNSEA) but is the “fruit of a long negotiation” and a “consensus that is acceptable to us,” Arnaud Rousseau, FNSEA’s first vice-president told EURACTIV France.

“The most important thing for us in the development of this NSP was to guarantee the economic sustainability of agricultural enterprises and therefore the need to accompany the transition of the agricultural world,” said Rousseau. France’s national plan strikes a “balance” between this economic aspect and the preservation of biodiversity, he added.

This opinion is not shared by Loïc Madeline, national secretary for the CAP of the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (FNAB). “For us, this NSP is a national strategic deception plan,” he told EURACTIV France.

According to him, the strategy is marked by “immobilism” and the maintenance of a status quo that goes against agriculture’s transition ambitions within the broader framework of the European Green Deal.

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The divisive eco-scheme

According to organic farmers, the eco-scheme is not sufficiently ambitious and will be “diluted” by the High Environmental Value (HVE) label, as organic farming and HVE-labelled farming will be equally rewarded despite organic farming being more demanding.

France’s environmental authority said the same in an opinion published in October. “This NSP is marked by continuity with the current CAP,” and there has been “no significant shift in the means of the NSP to respond to the major environmental challenges,” the opinion reads.

To access aid from the eco-scheme, “the ministry of agriculture proposes to rely in part on HVE certification, which will benefit more than 80% of farmers,” the authority wrote. However, it also warned that “as the specifications for this label cannot be finalised before the dossier is sent to the European Commission at the end of 2021, the expected environmental gain is still unknown.”

With remuneration under the eco-scheme potentially “very easy to achieve” for many farmers, “we are not at all moving towards a change of practices”, Madeline also summed up.

Transition or “system in disarray”?

The FNSEA, however, believes the eco-scheme will require “substantial efforts”. Yet, according to Rousseau, the idea is to allow as many farmers as possible to benefit from this aid. “We consider that the important thing is the trajectory of the transition, not the model,” he said.

The FNAB, for its part, would like to see just that change in trajectory. According to Madeline, France is pursuing a “strategy, under the cover of semantics, of saving the furniture of a system in disarray.”

The NSP was “at the image of an agriculture that is desperately looking for remedies to be able to continue on a trajectory that is leading us towards the disappearance of farms and biodiversity, and ever greater vulnerability,” Madeline added.

A trajectory that will not be sustainable over time, according to the FNAB national secretary. “During the next CAP reform [for the post-2027 period], there will be imperative changes to be made,” he added. If it was not too late to change course then, France will have missed the opportunity to “take the turn” now and under the “right conditions,” Madeline said.

At the FNSEA, eyes are now turned to the near future.

For farmers to apply the new CAP from 1st January 2023, “we need to know the rules of the game by July at the latest,” according to Rousseau. The most important thing now would be for the European Commission to give the green light to the French strategy as soon as possible to allow for it to be “solidified” before the summer, he added.

Agri Commissioner warns delays in CAP plans could cause 'double standards'

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has reiterated the importance of member states submitting their national strategic plans simultaneously, warning that otherwise, this runs the risk of unfair assessment.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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