I represented the United Kingdom at this month’s Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg.
The Council ultimately postponed political agreement on measures to ensure the recovery of the stock of European eel. A compromise text was tabled by the presidency during the meeting, taking into account a number of the concerns of interested member states. However, some member states had particular difficulties remaining which proved irreconcilable. This was unfortunate to say the least, given that the Council adopted conclusions calling for urgent measures as long ago as 2004. However, I hope the dossier will return to the Council in May or June for final approval.
The Council also held a policy debate on a proposal establishing a multi-annual plan for the recovery of cod stocks in the Baltic sea. Although the UK has no direct interest in the fishery, it is clearly important that the plan is adopted as a matter of some urgency. On the basis of the discussion, it is hoped that this will be possible in June.
There was an exchange of views on the Community’s approach towards eco-labelling schemes for fisheries products, based on a presidency questionnaire. There was a general consensus that European legislation should simply set minimum requirements for individual schemes, whilst allowing member states to introduce adaptations to suit their national circumstances. I argued that consumers had a role to play in supporting the development of sustainability in fisheries, but supported the use of EU legislation, with the proviso that it did not cut across existing successful schemes like those of the Marine Stewardship Council.
The Fisheries Commissioner updated the Council on the progress made in simplifying and improving the operation of the common fisheries policy (CFP). In particular, he confirmed that they would be cutting down on the size of the annual TAC and quota regulation to make its analysis easier and also that they would be conducting a study into the administrative burden placed on member states by the Community’s control and enforcement rules. I welcomed these initiatives.
The Council held a policy debate on proposals to reform the fruit and vegetables sector based on a presidency questionnaire covering decoupling of processing aids and the inclusion of crisis management measures within the operational programmes. I intervened to indicate a readiness to accept limited transition arrangements on decoupling and to warn against allowing crisis management measures to prop up structural surplus production.
The Agriculture Commissioner presented a report on cross-compliance rules introduced in the 2003 CAP reform and which form the first stage of the Commission’s review of cross compliance due for completion by the end of 2007. In its report the Commission recommended inter alia the removal of disproportionate penalties for minor non-compliance, the introduction of uniform implementation between member states and advance notice of inspections. There was general support for these initiatives.
A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business.
The Agriculture Commissioner updated Council on the WTO agricultural negotiations following discussions with WTO partners (United States, India, Brazil and Japan) in Delhi. She said that there had been little in the way of substantive progress but that all parties had agreed to intensify work with the aim of concluding the round by the end of the year. In reply to some member states, the Commissioner confirmed that the EU’s position in the negotiations is still its offer from October 2005.
The Council took note without discussion of updates provided by the Commission on avian influenza, and on the EU-Russia veterinary negotiations.
Denmark called on Council to encourage higher standards of animal welfare, in particular during transport, by using voluntary agreements with the industry.
The Council took note of Poland’s concerns about the definition of vodka as part of the current negotiations on the definition, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks.
A number of member states raised concerns about the Commission’s offer to introduce duty and quota free access to the EU market for all African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) country products, with transitional periods for rice and sugar, as part of economic partnership agreement negotiations. The Commissioner confirmed that these developments had already been taken into account in the reform of the EU sugar market (2005). I intervened to support WTO-compatible trade liberalisation with these countries.
Spain expressed concerns regarding recent French activities targeting anchovies.