My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 24 January.
The presidency presented its work programme highlighting its priorities as CAP reform, the dairy file, the quality package, and reaching agreement on the 1,100 pages of Lisbon alignment legislation. It intended to complete the evaluation of the EU animal welfare policy, and make progress on cloning. It would also make efforts to reach a binding agreement on forests at the Oslo Ministerial at the back end of its presidency. The debate on CFP reform would be a further central feature.
The Commission presented its communication on the health of honey bees outlining the key issues and the main actions that the Commission intended to take to address them. Member states supported the communication and called for further evidence on the possible causes of the increased bee mortalities. The UK welcomed the work, and drew attention to the action being taken in the UK to address bee health problems, and drew attention to recent evidence on possible involvement of neonicotinoid insecticides.
The debate on CAP reform was prepared on the basis of a presidency questionnaire exploring links to the delivery of environmental public goods, green growth and innovation, and agriculture’s contribution to addressing climate security concerns. All member states agreed with the Commission that that the objective was sound but most delegations wished to examine the relative contribution of the two CAP pillars to the Commission’s objective. A number suggested that pursuing green outcomes through pillar 1, either in the form of a top-up payments for areas with natural handicaps or by greening, was inadvisable and would result in administrative burdens. The UK called for additional resources for pillar 2, which could be better targeted at environmental objectives than pillar 1. Others, such as France, were more open to the proposal of a green pillar 1, provided it was mandatory and simple. A large number of member states insisted that the Commission ensure that its proposals delivered on the CAP simplification agenda.
The Commission stressed that the three objectives it had identified in its communication—food security, sustainable management of resources and territorial balance—were interlinked and that a green pillar 1 was necessary in order to achieve EU-wide environmental outcomes from agriculture. The Commission also responded to widespread concerns about CAP simplification, noting that an ad hoc expert group had been established, and would act as a filter for CAP reform proposals. CAP debate would continue at the February Council with a discussion of the Commission’s third objective for CAP reform, territorial balance.
The first item under any other business was the UK presentation of the foresight report, published by the chef scientific adviser, on the future of food and farming. The UK stressed that the report was an important lens through which to study the Commission’s CAP reform proposals. The UK also noted that an event would be organised in Brussels to disseminate and discuss the report’s findings.
Belgium, with the support of Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Austria, Slovenia, Portugal, Finland, Romania, Cyprus, Spain, Malta and Hungary, rehearsed its concerns about a crisis in the pigmeat sector, calling once more for the introduction of private storage aid (PSA), and the creation of a high-level group. Taking a more accommodating line than previously, the Commission agreed to open PSA but remained reluctant to raise expectations in the sector by establishing a high-level group. It would continue with plans for discussion in the enlarged advisory group, urging the presidency to discuss the group’s findings at SCA in April, with a view to recommending an appropriate policy response to the Commission in advance of its adopting CAP reform proposals.
The Commission gave a brief tour of the situation on international markets. It noted on the DDA negotiations that there was a positive mood in WTO circles for attempting once more to conclude the round. The Commission also put forward a number of suggestions for addressing price volatility in the context of the French presidency of the G20. Instruments were needed to address price volatility, as experienced showed that prices remained volatile even where there was no shortage of physical stocks. The Commission wanted more transparency in terms of market data, improved quality of data, and a forum for discussion. It wanted to have more reliability about the availability of emergency stocks, and wanted to press for improved international governance of crises and increased investment in agricultural research. A communication on commodities, dealing with some of the issues, would be adopted by the Commission in the coming days.
France noted that a number of the issues would be picked up at the G20 Agriculture Ministers meeting 22-23 June, which would lead to the adoption of an action plan at the Cannes Ministerial at the end of the French presidency.
Germany provided an update on the dioxin situation. It estimated that 2,256 tonnes of feed fat had been contaminated, and said that 589 holdings were currently under restriction. Germany also presented its 10-point action plan to improve consumer protection in the animal feed chain, and called for certain actions to be considered at EU level.
The Commission clarified that the current system had worked and that any further measures should remain proportionate. The measures under consideration were the compulsory approval of establishments manufacturing, treating and marketing fats, the strict separation of production streams, reinforced dioxin monitoring, and the extension of reporting obligations to private laboratories. The Commission rejected the positive list and the mandatory liability insurance actions proposed by Germany. Member states felt that there were lessons to be learnt from the incident and supported the Commission’s proposed approach.
Latvia requested EU co-financing to support the cleansing and disinfection of livestock vehicles returning from the Russian Federation, to prevent the introduction of African swine fever. Most member states supported the request made. The Commission would consider different options to provide support and these would be discussed further at expert level.