Emmanuel Macron courts the countryside – POLITICO

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STRASBOURG — French President Emmanuel Macron is more and more the farmers’ pal as he gears up for an anticipated reelection race in April subsequent yr.


When he got here to energy in 2017, Macron took a extra confrontational strategy to France’s agricultural heartlands by appointing Nicolas Hulot as a campaigning atmosphere minister, who was keen to conflict with highly effective, conservative rural constituencies on points resembling pesticides and searching.

Extra not too long ago, Macron’s rural insurance policies have more and more tallied with the calls for of the very lobbies Hulot known as out, at the beginning in Brussels.

Together with his farming-friendly insurance policies, Macron is courting greater than the farmers’ vote. It is also about displaying that his mantra of a “Europe that protects” applies to one thing the French maintain near their coronary heart: the nation’s wealthy panorama and the meals that grows on it — in brief, the French lifestyle that his far-right rivals say is threatened from all sides.

The French authorities closely influenced the design of the EU’s upcoming farm policy revamp. Now, it is cooking up plans to guard European farmers by tightening Europe’s meals import necessities when France takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU in the first six months of 2022. The large concept is to limit imports from international locations with decrease requirements by way of chemical compounds and deforestation.

At residence too, Macron has morphed right into a staunch defender of the terroir who lends an empathetic ear to farmers and hunters.

When hen hunters took to the streets of French cities in September, Macron rolled again some restrictions, to their delight. Again in 2017, Macron made a pledge to ban farmers from utilizing the ubiquitous herbicide glyphosate over well being issues by 2021, however having missed that concentrate on, the authorities’s message now places extra emphasis on saying that transitions take time and that farmers should first have non-chemical options accessible. Macron’s agriculture minister, Julien Denormandie, additionally allowed sugar beet farmers extra exemptions to make use of bee-killing pesticides which might be banned at the EU stage.

“We succeeded in convincing the authorities there ought to be no bans with out long-term options being in place,” stated Arnold Puech d’Alissac, a board member of the FNSEA, France’s highly effective farmers’ foyer, which counts over 200,000 members.

Pivot to the rural proper

Macron’s pivot towards la France profonde presents a possibility to redefine his occasion as a broader, traditionalist outfit and escape the criticism he has confronted of being an elitist metropolitan who’s out of contact with the bleak realities of rural France, the place many farmers eke out a wretched existence whereas feeling unfairly stigmatized for doing environmental harm.

Sometimes, this constituency hasn’t been favorable to him.

Historically round 65 p.c of farmers have voted for Les Républicains, a center-right occasion, stated Bertrand Hervieu, a sociologist who makes a speciality of rural France and is a member of the French Academy of Agriculture. LesRépublicains’ chief Christian Jacob was a farmer himself. Marine Le Pen’s far-right Nationwide Rally occasion additionally has “robust penetration” in rural areas, Hervieu stated.

“Macron’s technique in the agricultural world is to utterly redraw the French political map. So in fact he’s making an attempt to seize the farming vote and to tear it away from theRépublicains,” he stated.

Macron’s farmer-friendly coverage marks a stark shift from the begin of his presidency when he might no less than declare to be placing inexperienced points to the fore by pointing to his appointment of Hulot, who was a famend activist earlier than he took workplace. However Hulot dramatically give up in 2018, fed up with being a token inexperienced and citing his frustration at the affect of huge farmers’ and hunters’ lobbies. (Hulot is now under investigation over accusations of sexual assault, which he denies.)

The backpedaling on glyphosate was a sign of how highly effective the farming foyer nonetheless is.


The FNSEA is criticized by some for being a stronghold of huge farming pursuits, with robust hyperlinks to meals business processing giants. “The representatives of the state are notably open to no matter it says,” stated Andy Smith, a professor at Sciences Po in Bordeaux, who described the foyer as a “hegemonic union.”

The specter of tractors blockading the streets of Paris is at all times looming, and it’s one key motive why — regardless of their comparatively small numbers — farmers nonetheless command plenty of political heft in France.

However any actual menace of paralyzing motion has receded, largely because of Macron’s appointment of a brand new agriculture minister in 2020 who’s well liked by farmers’ lobbyists.

Denormandie is a 41-year-old loyalist of Macron’s La République En Marche (LREM) occasion and is taken into account an in depth confidant of the president.

“All the motion and discourse of Denormandie tries to converge with the place of the FNSEA. There’s little question about it,” stated Hervieu, the rural sociologist.

Each nationwide farm minister have to be seen to defend the nation’s farmers, however Denormandie’s phrases — like when he took a strong stand against lab-grown meat — have hit their mark in farming circles.

Denormandie has two major mantras: One is the significance of French meals “sovereignty,” and the different is to argue that financial pursuits are usually not in opposition to ecological ones.

His appointment marked a change from the earlier minister Didier Guillaume, who was extensively dismissed by the farming group regardless of placing a powerful emphasis on stamping out so-called agribashing, a time period coined to explain the sense of victimhood perceived by many farmers in France.

Denormandie’s prior expertise working in public policymaking on forests and water has additionally helped set up his credibility in the eyes of farmers, and he has publicly clashed with the Greens over pesticides, accusing them of missing a sufficiently practical strategy to glyphosate.

“He’s identified learn how to discover the phrases to help farmers. It’s an actual change,” statedPuech d’Alissac about Denormandie.

A spokesperson for Denormandie didn’t reply to requests for remark.

Rural ‘rebalancing’

There are downsides to Macron’s farmer friendliness. His stance is exposing him to visceral assaults from extra left-wing and greener political events, particularly in relation to how France will spend over €60 billion beneath the EU’s newly reformed Frequent Agricultural Coverage (CAP), which is able to kick off in 2023 and final 5 years.

“He dangers getting attacked on the atmosphere,” stated Jean-Marie Séronie, an agricultural economist who writes about up to date rural politics and can be a member of theFrench Academy of Agriculture.

Aurélie Catallo, the lead coordinator of marketing campaign group For One other CAP, stated Macron is making an attempt to rebrand his occasion via a ruralisation agenda that entails “huge concessions to the FNSEA … notably on the reform of the CAP.”

“We see now that there might be no enchancment in any respect, neither from a social nor an environmental viewpoint,”Catallo stated, including that Macron’s LREM occasion “makes no present or concession towards the left.”

As the European Parliament in Strasbourg sealed the revamp of the CAP final month, Macron’s MEPs in the Renew Europe group got here to the protection of the reform, which was formed largely by Denormandie in the Council of nationwide EU ministers.

At a press convention, French Renew MEP Jérémy Decerle grew to become visibly emotional when he hit again at criticism from inexperienced teams and rival French MEPs. “The NGOs who moan as we speak, these in the hemicycle who say this CAP is not any good, mock the European farmers who do their work and respect the guidelines,” he stated.

“We are able to’t ask them to do much more with out giving them a bit little bit of respect,” stated Decerle, a former president of the French younger farmers’ union, which has robust ties to the FNSEA.

Although an total vote in favor of the CAP was a fait accompli, rival MEPs from the Socialist, Left and Inexperienced teams seized the probability to assault Macron’s authorities. Some known as it a clean examine for nationwide governments, others a catastrophe for the atmosphere, or a business-as-usual reform at a time of local weather disaster.

Inexperienced MEP Benoît Biteau — an natural farmer and de facto European figurehead for France’s peasant farmers motion — wrote in a press launch: “Macron’s authorities has made the worst doable alternative: to alter nothing.”

Farmers’ lobbyists say Macron’s better emphasis on the significance of productive agriculture is just to be anticipated.

“The greens weighed an excessive amount of on the authorities at the begin of the mandate and as we speak there’s a rebalancing. That’s all,” statedPuech d’Alissac of the FNSEA.

Home of mirrors

Macron intends to make use of France’s presidency of the EU Council subsequent yr to push for a coverage that farmers cannot get sufficient of.

France needs to limit meals imports from outdoors the EU that do not meet the inside social, moral or environmental requirements that the bloc’s personal farmers are obliged to achieve.

Keenly conscious that French farmers begrudge being undercut by cheaper imports, Denormandie has stated it is his high precedence for the presidency, and dubbed the reciprocal commerce demand “mirror clauses.”

Nevertheless, Macron’s main opponent right here just isn’t the greener spectrum, which is broadly in favor of the idea, however strict World Commerce Group guidelines that in principle would cease international locations from throwing up commerce obstacles based mostly on manufacturing strategies alone.

Although some in the European Fee consider it will theoretically be doable to demand this if sure very stringent circumstances are met, different EU officers suppose it is a whole no-go zone that might set off commerce wars with the bloc’s closest allies.

Renew Europe MEP Decerle informed POLITICO that France continues to be trying into learn how to “rigorously and successfully” translate the concept of mirror clauses. He talked about further means for checks and certificates to ensure the merchandise that enter Europe respect the EU’s requirements.

“The tactic and the exact provisions don’t exist but,” Decerle stated. “However we should always have the braveness to search out options to cease letting in merchandise that don’t meet our requirements.”

Barbara Moens contributed reporting.

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