My right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Agriculture and Food (Jim Paice) represented the UK on agriculture matters at the Agricultural and Fisheries Council on Monday 23 January. Stewart Stevenson MSP and Alun Davies AM were also in attendance.
The meeting opened with a presentation of the Danish presidency’s priorities for the first half of 2012. Progress on CAP reform negotiations and political agreement on the common fisheries policy were the two main objectives, with simplification of food legislation, the technical alignment of legislation with the Lisbon treaty, and a focus on animal welfare also mentioned.
The main agenda item was a CAP reform discussion focusing on the Single Common Market Organisation (SCMO) proposal. The Commission stated that the proposal would refine existing market intervention measures, enabling the EU to react more effectively to agricultural crises, and introducing a new off-budget crisis reserve. The Commission called for Producer Organisations (PO) and Inter-Branch Organisations (IBO) to be allowed to benefit from clearer rules on competition law allowing them to plan effectively and adjust their production. The Commission also announced the creation of a high level group to examine the EU wine sector.
The UK acknowledged the requirement for a safety net but stressed the need to differentiate between market volatility and a genuine crisis; and disagreed that a crisis reserve should be off-budget. The UK welcomed the end of certain market measures such as the sugar quota, but restated the need for a balanced sugar market which allowed the EU sugar beet and cane refining industries to compete on a level playing field. Finally, the UK stated that the existing Producer Organisation model had been difficult to implement in member states and needed clarification.
Member states accepted the requirement for a safety net for farmers, but were split over the best ways to achieve this. The major wine producing member states regretted the proposed end to vine planting rights, but welcomed the formation of a high level group. A large group wanted to continue with sugar beet quotas. The Producer Organisations and Inter-Branch Organisations proposals were generally well-received, although many member states rejected the idea of compulsory recognition.
There were two items under any other business. The first saw a Commission presentation of its strategy for the protection and welfare of animals 2012-15. There was some reference to poor implementation of the ban on conventional cages for laying hens, and to the importance of maintaining the deadline for compliance with the sow stall ban in 2013.
The second any other business item was information from Holland on discovery of the Schmallenberg virus in Holland, Germany and Belgium. Holland called for a monitoring plan and EU funding to tackle the disease and for it be classified notifiable. The UK also reported discovery of four cases of Schmallenberg but stated that while EU-wide monitoring, research, and co-ordination was important there was not enough evidence to make the disease formally notifiable. The Commission stressed the need to act proportionately and avoid unnecessary disruptions to the market and trade.