French court allows mayor pesticide ban for first time

A French court has rejected a request from departmental authorities to cancel two mayoral anti-pesticide decrees for the first time.

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The administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise (Val-d’Oise, Yvelines, Ile-de-France) rejected the request from authorities in Hauts-de-Seine, on Friday, November 8, after having heard the case on Tuesday, October 29.

The department had requested that the court cancel two anti-pesticide decrees that had been made by the mayors of the communes of Gennevilliers and Sceaux.

The mayors had made the decrees earlier this year, claiming that they were acting in “the health of their population”. The use of pesticides close to homes and businesses has previously been linked to health problems.

Following the court’s decision not to cancel the decrees, the request will now be considered in further detail, with the final decision set to be made at a later date.

It is the first time that such a decision has been made by a court.

Until now, all previous similar cases have seen the court uphold requests from local authorities to cancel mayoral decrees.

Lawyer for the mayors and communes Corinne Lepage, said: “This is a first, and I am extremely happy. The court has given authority to the mayors to act. The court considered that overall, as far as the danger of the products has been sufficiently established, that mayors can regulate as they choose.

“The mayor was fairly able to consider that the inhabitants were exposed to a serious danger, justifying his taking of these measures.

“In light of this decision, we will [now] be able to consider how rural communes will be able to make use of this precedent.”

Mayor of Sceaux, Philippe Laurent, said: “We are obviously all very happy, but it is one step, of course. We must await the wider judgement. We must also wait to see if the State will intervene in this decision. So there is still an enormous amount of work to do.”

Mr Laurent, who is also the general secretary of national mayoral group l'Association des Maires de France, added: “I foresee an ongoing debate on the competence of mayors. What can the mayor do compared to the State, how far can the mayor go when it comes to the law?

“The judge, eventually, has recognised - after a fashion - the possibility of going not against, but above the law, when we judge that there is a danger to populations. The debate is certainly a lot more complex in rural areas than it is in urban areas.”

Mr Laurent referred to rural areas, all of whom have seen their mayoral anti-pesticide decrees cancelled in court, and said that this could “allow [them] to think” that the use of land for agriculture is seen as a “brake” on these kinds of decrees.

The decision comes after the high-profile case of Langouët (Ille-et-Villaine, Brittany), in which Daniel Cueff, mayor of the 602-inhabitant commune, had his decree controversially cancelled by the administrative court in Rennes.

This prompted a debate on the issue and caused several mayors to follow Mr Cueff’s lead.

At the time, President Emmanuel Macron said he "supported the mayor's intentions", but added: "There are laws. The authorities must respect them. I will always been behind authorities that respect the law. The solution is not to take out a ban that goes against the law, but to work to change the law."

Mr Macron said that he would like to "move towards greater management of pesticide spreading zones" due to "the consequences on public health", and ecology minister Elisabeth Borne said that she was working rapidly on “a new project on the regulation [of pesticides]”.

But Mr Cueff said that “we have been waiting [for a project on pesticides] for 10 years...we must move on this.”

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