I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels on 20 and 21 November 2006. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, also attended.
The Council reached political agreement on fixing fishing opportunities for certain deep-sea fish stocks for 2007 and 2008. Cuts in catch levels were approved, reflecting the generally poor state of the species concerned and fishing for some species will be phased out altogether over four years. The UK led the way in ensuring due regard was given to the scientific advice. In addition, political agreement was also reached on a new regime of management measures for the sustainable exploitation of fishery resources in the Mediterranean sea. This places these waters on an equivalent footing with other EU fisheries and allows a concerted approach to management of fish stocks throughout the Community.
The Council held an exchange of views on the Commission communication implementing sustainability in EU fisheries through maximum sustainable yield, where member states re-emphasised their commitment to managing for the longer-term.
The Council also reached unanimous political agreement on the use of electronic logbooks for recording and reporting of fishing activities and the use of remote sensing to monitor illegal fishing activity.
The Council held a discussion on the Commission's proposal to reform the current system of aid for banana production within the EU. The proposal abolishes the existing aid scheme to banana producers and replaces it with an increased budget allocation for the POSEI scheme for supporting agriculture production in the outermost regions and a new decoupled aid under the single payment scheme for the very limited continental production in Greece and Cyprus.
The Council also held a policy debate on a proposal to extend the existing energy crop support to new member states; to prolong the new member states simplified version of the single payment scheme (SAPS) until after 2008; and to make some technical corrections to the single payment legislation.
The Council held an exchange of views on a Commission communication “Halting the loss of biodiversity by 2010 - and beyond”. The Communication identifies four key policy areas for action—biodiversity in the EU, the EU and global biodiversity, biodiversity and climate change, and the knowledge base, and translates these into specific targets and actions in the action plan included in the communication. The communication garnered widespread support from member states for the protection of biodiversity and the proposed actions in the agriculture and fisheries sectors.
Over lunch, the Fisheries Commissioner gave a progress report on the draft action plan for simplifying and improving the common fisheries policy. I underlined the importance of this initiative and of the Commission making more substantive progress in the future.
A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business:
The Fisheries Commissioner updated the Council on the EU/Norway fisheries negotiations for arrangements to apply in 2007.
The Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner gave a presentation on the Commission's report on the implementation of EU legislation regulating genetically modified food and feed. He also provided an update to Council on the developments on Avian Influenza H5N1, and drew Council's attention to the Commission's decision to put forward a proposal to ban the trade of cat and dog fur and products containing such fur.
Poland drew attention to the ban imposed by Russia on the imports of meat and plant products from Poland and called on member states to express solidarity.
Germany and a number of other member states asked for the re-authorisation process of pesticide ingredients to be streamlined and reviewed.
The Agriculture Commissioner gave a progress report on uptake in year one of the restructuring scheme for the sugar industry, agreed as part of the 2005 reform package.
France, supported by Belgium, asked the Commission to consider aid for farmers affected by recent outbreaks of bluetongue.