How did the French EU presidency fare on agriculture? –

As the French EU Council presidency ended on Thursday (30 June), EURACTIV France takes a look back at how the French dealt with the agriculture file during their six-month stint at the helm of the rotating EU Presidency.

Read the article in its original English here.

As Russia and Ukraine are global leaders in the export of foods, raw materials, and energy, the war in Ukraine has forced the EU to rethink its agricultural policy to reflect greater production at home.

France’s priorities, set out in January before the war, included implementing so-called “mirror clauses” to block products that do not comply with EU standards from entering the bloc’s market, and policies on carbon sequestration in soil in order to meet the EU’s carbon neutrality targets for 2050.

Mirror clauses

The now-former Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie made it clear at the start of his chairmanship of the AGRIFISH Council that importing agri-food products that do not meet EU production standards would be “nonsense in terms of sovereignty and the environment.”

The agroecological transition will require “an alignment” between the different agricultural and trade policies of the Union, he added. EU ministers demonstrated their approval and willingness to review trade agreements with third countries but warned this must be done without transgressing World Trade Organization rules.

According to the French dairy association CNIEL and beef producers’ association Interbev, “a course has undeniably been set, and all that is needed now is to continue.”

But Interbev remains concerned about the new free trade agreement that has been concluded between the EU and New Zealand as it lacks mirror clauses. “The efforts made by France over the past six months could be reversed in the next few days,” they said in a letter to Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne.

France said it was hoping to lower the maximum residue limits allowed for imports. However, due to the Ukraine war, the Commission authorized some EU countries, such as Spain, to increase their maximum limits in March.

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Carbon farming on the way

Another key aim of the presidency was carbon farming.

In February, Denormandie said he wanted to turn European farmers into “climate soldiers”, stressing carbon sequestration is essential to achieve the EU’s carbon neutrality objective by 2050.

The sector is responsible for about 430 million out of one billion tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions released in Europe annually.

A recent report by the French public research institute INRAE ​​found that intensive agriculture areas are where the carbon market – the exchange of units of greenhouse gas emissions between countries – is most flourishing.

On 7 April, EU ministers approved conclusions based on the Commission’s communication to “encourage agricultural practices that contribute to capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil or biomass in a sustainable manner”. This would include planting hedges or trees, species diversity and rotation, or growing vegetables.

But for a legislative text to even be presented on “carbon farming”, one will have to wait until the end of the year, tweeted France’s newly-appointed Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau.

As a complement to the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), these financial incentives to sequester carbon would be made “from public and private resources,” the Commission stated.

National strategic plans

The implementation of the CAP through countries’ national strategic plans was another key dossier for the French presidency.

The presidency twice pressured the European Commission to approve the national plans as quickly as possible, at an AGRIFISH Council on 21 March and then in a letter sent to the Commission two weeks later.

According to Mathieu Courgeau, president of agricultural collective Pour une autre PAC, “France has not used its position as president [of the EU Council] to pull everyone up.”

However, the presidency had some wins after its derogations to the CAP were granted: it received exemptions in the name of productivity regarding the cultivation of set-aside land as well as crop rotation requirements to receive green payments.

Such exemptions will likely be reflected in the new CAP, as the Commission recently made clear.

On pesticides, however, the French presidency did not get things to go their way.

On 22 June, the Commission proposed a roadmap for halving the use of chemical pesticides. However, EU agriculture ministers, including from France, opposed such a move as their key concern since the start of the war has been to free up productive potential.

However, at the World Congress of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Marseille last September, Macron said he wants the French EU presidency “to take a strong initiative on the subject of pesticides, and I am committed to doing so here , with all my colleagues, to accelerate the phase-out of pesticides.”

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Poor timing?

MEP Benoît Biteau said having four rounds of elections during the presidency hardly helped the EU agenda.

“It is disrespectful both for the EU and for France. It was a total failure, partly because of that,” he said, criticizing Denormandie’s absence from many meetings due to the campaign.

“We would have needed a full-time chair with what happened in Ukraine,” said Biteau.

[Edited Natasha Foote/Alice Taylor/Nathalie Weatherald]

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