Carbon farming priority issue for the EU

We are half way through the French Presidency of the EU. This has not been a straightforward time, with first the pandemic and now the war in Ukraine. Maybe this is why few people have been following the efforts of the French agriculture minister in his attempts to create regulations for capturing carbon in the soil.

According to the minister, the EU cannot delegate its food sovereignty to others; but, in addition to “feeding” people, farming in the EU must take action to bring about agroecological transition. This involves reciprocal regulations that ensure a harmonization of different farming policies. Standard European regulations would allow production and trade of agricultural products internationally in a way that protects both the environmental and social dimensions. Importing agroalimentary products that were not produced to European standards would be “stupid in terms of both sovereignty and environment”.

In addition, European farming must be directed towards holding and increasing soil carbon in order to reduce the impact of climate change. European farmers therefore take on a new role as “climate soldiers” and must be helped to reconcile “the creation of environmental value with the creation of economic value “.

So far so good. The minister’s words sum up the informal discussion among the 27 European agriculture ministers held in Strasbourg between 7 and 8 February. The minister’s proposal received unanimous approval and the European Commissioner for Agriculture declared: “It is rare that a proposal by the Commission and one by the presidency receive such strong signals of support from all member states.” But the meeting also highlighted delicate technical issues that still need to be resolved.

Unfortunately the French minister’s proposals come up against the cacophony of different positions held by EU member states. Not until the end of the year, when the Commission’s proposal will be revealed, will we be able to tell if these words have been translated into achievable actions.

Experience has shown us that unanimous positions from the 27 partners are always followed by discord and disagreements. Just think of the expected revision of the CAP with, on one side, German ministers who are asking for an end to direct payments and an increase in organic production while other member states insist on maintaining the use of pesticides like glyphosate. Ironically the latter group includes Hungary, the Netherlands, Sweden and …  France! It is no coincidence that on 10 January five French NGOs accused the French government of “failing in its obligation to protect biodiversity and renewing authorization for the use of controversial pesticides”. One to add to the long series “Do as I say, not as I do”.