Press release: 24 July 2023
Commission faces court after approving multibillion French agri plan that breaks bloc’s own laws
ClientEarth and Collectif Nourrir have filed a case in the Court of Justice of the European Union, after they claim the European Commission unlawfully approved France’s national agriculture plan under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The NGOs argue that France’s plan doesn’t meet the CAP’s objectives as it fails to push for a reduction in greenhouse gases, especially methane emitted from cattle farms; and lacks meaningful financial incentives to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers, as well as promote more sustainable farming practices that would help protect nature.
With this legal action, the NGOs aim to force the Commission to reassess France’s plan and ultimately, call on France to improve it.
CAP payments are conditional on national strategic plans that demonstrate compliance with EU laws - in particular, those designed to protect people, nature, the climate and the future of farming. The Commission itself acknowledged that France’s plan was inadequate, but approved it anyway - breaching its own laws in doing so.
In 2022, the NGOs had requested that the Commission reassess its approval of France’s plan, but the Commission refused, stating that it has limited power to shape national plans as EU countries have the discretion to allocate their subsidies as they see fit.
In the court case, the NGOs hold that the Commission’s refusal to reassess France’s plan goes against its legal duty to uphold its own laws. The European Commission has a responsibility to make sure taxpayers’ money is used to achieve its climate and environmental goals by supporting farmers to transition to sustainable and resilient agricultural practices that guarantees everyone has access to healthy food.
The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the main subsidy mechanism that funds farmers across the EU, representing one third of the EU’s total budget – a total of over €55 billion. The Commission’s approval of France’s plan unlocks more than €9 billion in subsidies each year for French farmers.
ClientEarth lawyer Lara Fornabaio said: “The climate and biodiversity crises are already wreaking havoc on our food systems, with severe droughts and floods devastating harvests. To stand any chance of continuing to feed the bloc, it’s clear that the EU’s current agricultural practices need to change.
“The CAP’s major financial power means it has the ability to transform the future of the agri-food sector and its contribution to achieving the EU’s climate and nature goals – as well as the sector’s own ability to operate. But if the Commission doesn’t believe it has the power to enforce its own laws and ensure countries are spending this money on sustainable, resilient farming practices, then who is holding governments to account to make sure we will be able to successfully farm into the future?”
Mathieu Courgeau, co-president of the Collectif Nourrir said: “The overall lack of ambition of the French plan has long been denounced by the organisations of the Collectif Nourrir, which have constantly made proposals to achieve a plan that meets the challenges of better distribution of aid, environment, animal welfare, but also the impact on countries in the global South. The complaint lodged represents the final attempt to ensure that the CAP responds to the social and environmental concerns of European citizens. While we are targeting the French plan, our broader aim is to ensure that the Commission is in a position to guarantee a high level of ambition of Member States’ plans.”
A hearing at the General Court could be held by the end of 2024 and a judgement released in 2025. The desired end result would be a ruling that forces the Commission to reassess the French CAP Strategic Plan and ultimately, calling on France to improve its plan.
ClientEarth: Bianca Vergnaud, email@example.com, +32 (0)47 188 70 95
Collectif Nourrir: Juliette Sainclair, firstname.lastname@example.org, +33 (0)7 57 48 38 34
Notes to editors:
France receives a total of €9 billion a year in EU subsidies under the CAP, the largest share of all EU Member States.
In its report published last month, the French High Council for the Climate (Haut Conseil pour le Climat) highlighted the low level of ambition of France’s plan in light of its climate objectives and the lack of an overall vision for the future of livestock farming.
A recent article by the French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (Institut national de recherche pour l'agriculture, l'alimentation et l'environnement) shows that 99% of French farmers would be able to receive the standard level of payment for implementing ‘green’ practices required under the CAP without having to make any changes to their farming practices.
What legal action have ClientEarth and Collectif Nourrir taken?
The NGOs argue that the Commission, who has a duty to assess all national plans prior to their adoption, should not have approved France’s national plan as it fails to meet the climate and nature goals of the CAP as well as other environmental laws.
In 2022, the NGOs requested the Commission review its approval of France’s plan. However, in May 2023, the Commission rejected the NGOs’ request, stating that it has limited power to shape national plans as EU countries have the discretion to allocate their subsidies as they see fit.
Why should the French CAP Strategic Plan be reviewed?
ClientEarth and Collectif Nourrir have focused on three main measures within the French CAP Strategic Plan, which they argue fail to comply with the CAP’s objectives:
- Measures related to cattle farming do not support a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, especially reductions of methane and do not sufficiently promote sustainable cattle farming;
- The financial aid given to measures meant to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers are insufficient to promote their use with detrimental consequences especially for French water bodies; and
- The requirements to obtain financial support through the CAP to maintain and preserve biodiversity do not incentivise farmers to adopt more sustainable practices.
Under the CAP, EU countries are required to increase their climate and environmental ambition.
What is the legal procedure used in this case?
NGOs – unlike Member States and businesses – do not have direct access to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). To submit a case like today’s case, they first need to complete an administrative step known as an ‘internal review request’. This first step was done in November 2022 (see point 71). The Commission replied unsatisfactorily in May 2023 (see point 71). The NGOs are now challenging the Commission’s reply before the CJEU.
ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.
About Collectif Nourrir
The Collectif Nourrir brings together French farmers and citizens from 54 organisations, working to implement fair, democratic and ecological agricultural and food policies. We lead and coordinate collective work aimed at encouraging communication and engagement between the non-for-profit stakeholders on agriculture and food, at promoting ambitious agricultural and food policies and at raising awareness within the civil society.