France tinkers with EU future; no angry farmers on the street for a while

France will hold the presidency of the European Union for the next six months. This temporary presidency will mainly be dominated by the Future Conference on modernization of the budget and procedures within the EU. In addition, French President Manuel Macron wants to significantly expand the range of tasks of the EU in the international economy.

Following the recent decisions on the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), hardly any new major decisions are to be expected in the agricultural field under the French Presidency. The French LNV minister Julien Denormandie must make a start with the introduction of the first farm-to-fork measures, but he must above all ensure that Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski does not go too fast.

For agriculture, the most favorable change can be expected from new trade agreements. France wants protection against imports of (cheaper) food that is not made according to European (environmental) criteria. With the principle of reciprocity for imports and own production, France wants to prevent environmental and climate laws in the EU from weakening the competitive position of EU farmers in the future. 

Denormandie warns that the Green Deal must in no way lead to a relocation of production from the EU. In France there is a broad consensus that the domestic beef market must be protected and that the free trade agreement with the South American Mercosur countries should therefore not enter into force. 

The trade agreements currently being negotiated with New Zealand and Australia are likely to meet with French concerns due to competition for animal products in France. Moreover, Paris wants to replace soy imports with more own soy cultivation within the EU.

Within a few years, France has dropped from the world's second largest agricultural exporter to sixth place. Of the EU member states, the Netherlands and Germany in particular have overtaken France in the export countries. Changes in consumption and consumer behavior and the pricing in supermarkets are seen as a major cause of the problem. Food plays an increasingly smaller role in the daily lives of many French people than it used to. There is also an increasing trend towards cheap products. 

Agriculture Minister Denormandie is considered a special confidant of President Emmanuel Macron. He was part of the new “En Marche” movement from the beginning and organized the 2016 election campaign for Macron. His difficult task of keeping the troubled French peasants in line has so far been more or less successful. He was recently applauded in Paris by sugar beet growers for whom he had extended the neonicotinoids exemption. 

Despite his verbal and political commitment to environmentally and climate-friendly agriculture, Denormandy often takes a more pragmatic approach in individual cases. French farmers who take to the streets quickly and militantly and the strong regional agricultural associations are quickly on his neck.

And in the upcoming presidential election in April, rural voters must by no means be lost to Republicans. So, for the next six months, French farmers should not be upset about European agricultural issues…