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Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Volume 455: debated on Monday 15 January 2007

I represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels on 19 to 21 December 2006. Ross Finnie, the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, also attended.

The Council adopted by unanimity Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas and related measures fixing fishing opportunities for certain fish stocks for 2007.

I was keen that as many of the decisions taken as possible followed the scientific advice, while at the same time not undermining the long-term viability of the EU fishing industry. In this regard, a significant number of the UK’s key priorities were achieved, including TAC increases for certain nephrops and monkfish stocks in line with the science and the resistance of cuts in several stocks which had been proposed purely in response to previous low quota uptake.

The package also included further action to protect cod stocks including modest cuts in days for the UK whitefish fleet (reflecting the significant contribution to effort reduction they have already made), combined with larger cuts for the smaller mesh fisheries to take account of their significant contribution to cod mortality. I was prepared to accept these on the basis that we are now closer to ensuring a more even distribution of the responsibility for delivering cod recovery.

The Council held an exchange of views on Commission proposals for a management plan for plaice and sole in the North Sea. The proposal aims to manage the fisheries exploiting the stocks of North Sea plaice and sole so that they are rebuilt to—and then maintained—within safe biological limits. I supported the principle of such a management plan and was keen to encourage its development, providing it did not jeopardise the recovery of cod in the North Sea (with which it would operate in parallel). The Commission are committed to producing a revised plan in the light of the discussion for further consideration in due course.

The Council reached a “general approach” on a proposal to simplify and update the current regulation on organic food and farming (“general approach” being the term for an agreement reached before the European Parliament has issued its opinion). The presidency and Commission brokered a compromise which satisfied the UK’s principal concerns so I could intervene in support of the compromise but made clear that any future changes to the general approach should be technical and not substantial.

Over lunch on 19 December, the Austrian and Finnish Ministers shared experiences gained from managing their joint presidency programmes over the past year.

A number of issues, as follows, were raised under “any other business”: none of which required any intervention on behalf of the United Kingdom.

The Agriculture Commissioner presented her proposal for a Single Common Market Organisation (CMO). The proposal aims to consolidate the existing 21 sector-specific CMOs into a single regulation, in an effort to streamline and simplify the legal framework.

Austria and Germany, asked for measures to stabilise the EU sugar market, to prevent massive surpluses of sugar in the marketing year 2007-08 (year two of the implementation of the sugar restructuring scheme).

Poland expressed concerns regarding the low prices in the Polish pigmeat market sector and requested urgent export refunds and private storage aid to be put in place to alleviate this situation.

The Council took note without discussion of a progress report on the negotiations on the Commission’s communication on a thematic strategy and accompanying proposal on the sustainable use of pesticides.

The Council also took note of a written update provided by the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner on the developments on avian influenza H5N1.

On day one of the Council, in the absence of the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner, the Commission gave an update on the EC-Russian Federation veterinary and phytosanitary agreement negotiations and Council adopted a statement supporting the Commissioner’s efforts. On day two, the Commissioner returned from Moscow to update Council on his negotiations with the Russian Agriculture Minister the previous day, and to outline details of the agreement he reached in order to avert the threat of a ban.

Finally, the Czech Republic, asked the Commission to postpone application of the Council regulation, on the protection of animals during transport to 2009, due to problems in implementing the regulation by January 2007.