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The new European Commission presents the European Green Deal as the strategic programme for its five-year term.

The stated ambition is a carbon-neutral and greenhouse gas-neutral European Union by 2050, with a reduction in emissions of 50 to 55% by 2030.

In this framework, the Commission intends to propose a series of initiatives concerning all economic sectors. With regard to the agricultural sector and the food chain, it refers in its founding document of the Green deal of January 2020 to :

  • a Farm to Fork strategy that it will propose at the end of March 2020,
  • a 2030 European biodiversity strategy also announced for March 2020.

In its current form, the Farm to Fork strategy prepared by the European Commission takes the form of a set of actions that it sees as levers on which to act in the years to come, without, however, defining a clear guideline for the decisions to be taken to implement the Green Deal for European food chains.

The first feature of the Commission’s draft is that it is based primarily on existing measures in the European regulatory arsenal and suggests moving the sliders.
Whether it is to deal with the relationship between agricultural production and the environment or the relationship between food and nutrition, it does not go beyond the avenues already explored and does not seem to incorporate the lessons that can be drawn from them.

In fact, the Biodiversity Strategy Commission’s draft proposes adopting the following targets for 2030:

  • reduction in the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers by 50%.
  • areas of non-productive ecological interest to cover 10% of the agricultural area of farms
  • 30% of European agricultural land under organic farming.

This type of approach would set the agricultural sectors on a downward trend (with an uncertain environmental impact), and the European Union towards more agri-food imports, notwithstanding the problems of world market balance and deforestation.

The environmental impact of such guidelines remains questionable in the light of the experiences of some European countries.

Beyond the subject of carbon footprint, the targeted increase in organic production would be likely to cancel out the market premium enjoyed by organic products and thus put this European sector in a dead end.

Making a success of the European Green deal implies a change of paradigm for European decision-makers: to think differently, to get out of the regulatory automatisms already used without much success for a European Union that can indeed achieve.

Directions to reduce inputs and greenhouse gas emissions can only be economically and socially virtuous and effective if they follow :

  • a genuine transition strategy based in particular on investment in the adoption of new practices (agro-ecology, etc.) and the use of new technologies (e.g. precision agriculture);
  • a transition aiming at the neutrality of farms in terms of emissions and a strong focus on soil biodiversity,
  • a transition that is duly supported by a renewed CAP that sets out European guidelines and a common framework of requirements & rights and that puts economic dynamism and environmental sustainability at the same time at the centre of its concerns.

In fact, a question arises today for political decision-makers and economic and societal actors: Should the reformed CAP be the European answer and the tool for achieving the Green Deal in agriculture, food and the food chain, or is it only a collateral and disjointed subject with a Farm to Fork strategy and a 2030 Biodiversity strategy, finding their expression in new regulations defining quantified objectives applying to everyone in the European Union, whereas the proposed CAP reform proposes that each Member state defines its own objectives with regard to its particular priorities?

This first option supposes to question the generating facts which are the basis in an exploitation of an effective sustainability, on how to measure them and on the means then offered to farmers to support them in the transitions most suited to their operation that they will implement.

Orchestrating real sustainability in the European Union means successfully combining:

  • agricultural production ensuring a strong sovereignty of the European Union on the world stage and the vitality of all its rural areas,
  • management ensuring optimal intrinsic quality of European agricultural land, a zero-emission orientation of inputs used in soil, air and water, carbon neutrality (or even net sequestration where all other economic sectors are at best low emitters). The marker for all of these desired environmental externalities is the carbon footprint of farms.

The challenge of the Green Deal for agriculture is therefore to aim for carbon neutrality of European agriculture in ways that also contribute to strengthening its economic and social sustainability.