French left-wing bloc wants a ‘transformed’ CAP

For their plans to be successful, the bloc is proposing to reorientate CAP subsidies. EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON [EPA-EFE/CHRISTOPHE PETIT TESSON]

France’s left-wing bloc, led by radical-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants to push for a transformation of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to review the allocation of the €9 billion France receives. EURACTIV France reports.

The left-wing alliance recently formed by Mélenchon came out neck-and-neck with President Emmanuel Macron’s Ensemble! in the first round of the legislative elections on Sunday (12 June), meaning that regardless of the results, next Sunday, Mélenchon’s bloc will influence the country’s future agricultural policy.

During the presidential campaign, Mélenchon promised to rapidly modify the national strategic plan adjusting the CAP “by August 2022 at the latest”.

Consensus on agricultural issues

In line with Mélenchon’s proposals, the new alliance wants to gradually phase out pesticides, end factory farming, and generalise organic farming.

While the programme between left-wing parties is clear on phasing out pesticides by immediately banning the most dangerous – neonicotinoids and glyphosate – and putting an end to factory farming, other measures for which there is no consensus will be submitted to “the wisdom of the Assembly”, the deal between parties states.

For example, on making agricultural surfaces ready for organic farming, the programme proposes a 30% target for 2030 and a 100% one for 2050 –  compared to the current 10% rate.

Though the Socialist Party has proposed that the objective for 2050 should also allow for the conversion of “agroecological practices, without limiting itself to organic farming.”

However, there is a clear consensus that the CAP must be transformed to serve agroecology, peasant, and relocated agriculture, Aurélie Trouvé, a researcher and agricultural engineer who worked on the bloc’s agricultural programme and came in far ahead in the legislative elections for the Seine-Saint-Denis constituency said.

“The next French CAP is a considerable step backwards. No minister [Julien Denormandie] has ever taken the logic of production to such an extent, it is historic. We have a huge shift to make on agricultural and food issues. And public pressure will help us to do so,” she said before the elections on Sunday.

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Reorienting CAP subsidies

For their plans to be successful, the bloc is proposing to reorientate CAP subsidies.

“Aid should go to the most environmentally virtuous farms, but today, the better their environmental indicators, the less aid they receive per hectare,” said Trouvé.

The group is thus proposing reducing surface-area-based direct aid to farmers and implementing a ceiling on aid per worker and farm. On top of that, the group wants an increase in indirect aid for services rendered, both environmental and social.

Intensive farms would also receive assistance, according to the group’s plan. For Trouvé, the current system favours the largest farms and the concentration of land. “This is aid for capital and not for work,” she also said.

In its programme, France’s new left-wing bloc also intends to reinstate organic maintenance aids, which were abandoned in the national strategic plan for 2023-2027. The researcher added that this would complement the “agro-economic transition contract” aimed at encouraging installation and conversion.

“We want to link this aid to remunerative prices for farmers. We are going to take this ambition of regulating prices, which are currently more than chaotic, to Brussels,” she said.

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Arm wrestling with Brussels

However, the bulk of the bloc’s proposals does not deviate from current CAP rules.

“There is nothing to prevent us from capping aid per asset and per farm. And nothing prevents us from redistributing to the second pillar either. We have relied on the expertise of the Pour une autre PAC platform, we have the know-how of the senior administration, and we also have resources at the agriculture ministry,” she said.

But a showdown with Brussels would probably be inevitable if such a programme were to be implemented. “We are lucid. Some of these battles require the renegotiation of the current European treaties and rules,” the left-wing bloc acknowledges in its programme.

For example, the proposal of making collective catering food fully organic and local would go against EU competition law as it would discriminate against producers based on localisation. NUPES intends to bypass EU regulations on exactly such issues.

For the members of the left-wing alliance, other countries already regularly go against EU rules, and France is no exception, Manon Aubry, an EU lawmaker of Mélenchon’s radical-left party, said in a recent interview.

“France has just been rapped on the knuckles by the European Commission for not having sufficiently greened its agriculture within the framework of the CAP […] Liberals don’t hesitate to disobey!” she said, noting that it would be difficult to imagine the bloc’s “second economic power” being sanctioned.

In 2005, however, France was condemned for violating EU legislation on protecting fish stocks at risk of collapse. A fine of €20 million was imposed by the European Court of Justice, plus €57.8 million for each additional period of violation.

Therefore, the left-wing bloc seems determined to reshape the CAP as quickly as possible.

Election outcome

Whether the left-wing alliance could have its proposals on the CAP implemented will depend on the results of the second election round on Sunday (19 June).

If Macron’s movement fails to obtain an absolute majority, which is a possibility according to the polls, the left-wing alliance would then become the main opposition force and could impose its policy wishes.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

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