The French presidency of the EU: sustainable agriculture on the table
On 19 January 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron addressed the European Parliament for the first time under the French presidency of the EU. If the spotlight is currently on the immigration and defense items, several hot topics related to agriculture are also part of the French priorities for this term.
In a press conference in late 2021 focusing on the priorities for this term, Macron insisted that it is necessary to “defend, at the European level, our high-quality agricultural model.” He also highlighted that linking climate and economic goals will be one of France’s priorities during its European presidency. According to the goals set by the European Green Deal, European greenhouse gas emissions will have to be reduced by 55 per cent in 2030. Ensuring fair competition will be key to getting the French farmers’ support on several of the European priorities, including deforestation, biodiversity protection and reducing the use of pesticides. To do so, the French government needs to ensure that new environmental regulations are reflected on all imports in the EU. This seems to be a recurring strategy for the French presidency.
At the international level, Paris is being criticized by Germany and Spain for seeking to push back deadlines for free trade agreements with Chile and New Zealand. As European farmers are asked to comply with increasing standards for higher safety and environmental requests, France wants to ensure that agricultural products remain competitive. The EU is the world's largest exporter of agri-food products, mainly processed products with high added value, while it imports mainly plant products. A report published by the French Senate in June 2019, found that between 10 and 25 per cent of agricultural products imported by France, do not comply with European standards.
Deforestation and antibiotics
Also regarding compelling issues like deforestation and antibiotics, France supports a level playing field for agricultural suppliers. The European Commission announced on 17 November 2021 a proposal to combat international deforestation. It aims to minimize European consumption of products linked to legal and illegal deforestation by making imports conditional on the absence of deforestation throughout the supply chain. France is set to strongly back this proposal. Regarding the reduction of antibiotics used in livestock farming, the French Agriculture Minister Julien Denormandie already in 2020 confirmed that France would commit to imposing so-called ‘mirror clauses’ on antibiotics used in livestock farming. The aim is to create a “level playing field with regard to what enters the European market,” the minister added.
President Emmanuel Macron told the World Conservation Congress in September 2021 that France will push for “an accelerated phase-out of pesticides” during its EU presidency. At the beginning of his presidency in France in 2017, Macron pushed for the ban of glyphosate in France, a weed killer at the center of a global debate due to its link to cancer. Up to now, he did not succeed in banning glyphosate completely from the French market. Under the pressure of farm groups, his government seems now to be looking for a ban at the EU level instead.
As chair of the agricultural council, the French minister Denormandie will oversee the long-awaited revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive (SUD), which is expected to be proposed in March 2022. Initially adopted in 2009, this directive aims to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticides on human health and the environment. Its revision was outlined in the Farm to Fork strategy and aims at a 50 per cent reduction of chemical use in 2030, compared to 2009.