French agricultural law on water.
The Minister of Ecology Serge Lepeltier presents Wednesday, after seven years of heated debate, a bill on water which does not impose any new tax on farmers, in accordance with the commitment made in 2002 by Jacques Chirac during the presidential campaign.
France, condemned on many occasions by the European Commission for its water quality failures, started this reform of water policy in 1998.
The bill initially provided, like Dominique Voynet's project voted on at first reading in 2002, to tax nitrates in agriculture. The measure has definitively disappeared after an arbitration by Matignon and the Elysée in July. The current bill aims for "good ecological water status" in 2015, in accordance with the European directive (law) of 23 October 2000. Today, half of the territory is classified in "vulnerable zone" for nitrates. Pesticides are also present in 75% of rivers and half of groundwater, according to the French Institute for the Environment. Farmers, who consume 68% of the water used in France, are responsible for most of the pollution by nitrates (from livestock and fertilizers) and pesticides. They pay 1% of the royalties to the water agencies, which pay them 7 times more aid for depollution. The law will reduce this ratio to 2,5, explains the Ministry of Ecology. The text provides for transferring the current tax on pesticides (phytosanitary TGAP) paid by fertilizer manufacturers from the state budget to the water agencies, which manage pollution control by basin.
The tax (40 million euros) will be levied at the level of cooperatives where farmers buy fertilizers. "Its amount will appear on the farmer's invoice next to the VAT, which will have an educational effect," according to the ministry. Ultimately, farmers will not pay an additional tax, but the Water Agencies will receive a little more money from agriculture. The agricultural world will contribute 3 to 4% of royalties (60 million euros out of a total of 1,8 billion royalties per year) against 1% currently, according to the ministry.
Households remain the largest contributors (82% instead of 86%), while the share of industry is stable (around 14%).
“Unless there was a start from the national representation during the examination of the bill, the current scandal, which makes households the cash cow of water policy and encourages agricultural pollution by refusing to charge those responsible, will continue ”, indignant the UFC-Que Choisir, very active in the debate on water.
The law "fails to tackle the issue of nitrate pollution," continues the consumer association. It also gives up limiting the duration of the contracts of large water companies (20 years currently), and framing the fixed part in the bill, deplores the UFC.
The Ministry of Ecology puts forward other measures: water protection with strips of grass along rivers, control every 5 years of pesticide sprayers, obligation to maintain a minimum flow of 1 / 10th in rivers by the end of 2013. This measure, which aims to preserve aquatic environments, is contested by dam operators.
The bill, presented in early April to the Senate, also reformed the organization of fishing, by creating the National Office for Water and Aquatic Environments (ONEMA) in place of the Superior Council of Fisheries (CSP).