The Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), who is responsible for natural environment and fisheries, represented the UK on 14 May covering fisheries business. The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, my right hon. Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Mr Paice), represented the UK on 15 May covering the agriculture items. Richard Lochhead MSP and Alun Davies AM also attended.
On 14 May the Council debated the common fisheries policy and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).
On 15 May the Council debated common agricultural policy (CAP) reform: the greening of the CAP.
There were three any other business items:
Information from the Commission on the Salzburg aquaculture conference.
A request from Sweden on the enforcement of the general requirement to stun animals before slaughter.
Information from Poland on the fisheries partnership agreement between the EU and Mauritania.
At the Fisheries Council on 14 May 2012 the first item for discussion was reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP). There was general agreement that fishing needed to be at sustainable levels, that reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) was the correct approach and that the obligations agreed at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 for fishing to be at MSY by 2015, where possible, needed to be transcribed accurately in the new proposals. Discussions also covered the practical challenges of trying to fish all stocks in mixed fisheries at MSY simultaneously, the limitations in the current scientific advice and the need to take account of socio-economic considerations during the transitional period. The Commission noted these points and indicated there may be some flexibility in the timings within their proposals.
On the EMFF, member states identified a wide range of priorities for support and called for increased funding. The UK and Germany noted the annual EMFF budget should be no higher than it was in 2011. Many member states, including the UK, expressed concerns about the potential diversion of funds from implementation of CFP reform towards the Commission’s wider integrated maritime policy objectives and queried the size of the budget for this element.
In response, the Commission stressed that it was unlikely that the EMFF budget would be increased, and that cuts were possible. Although they agreed that flexibility was important, the scope was limited because of accounting rules, etc. The Commission agreed to provide clarification on the weighting of the allocation criteria.
Under any other business Poland asked for action to be taken regarding the negotiations with Mauritania for a new fisheries partnership agreement. The Commission acknowledged the importance of the agreement but pointed out that it was trying to take negotiations forward.
The Commission reported back on a recent conference focusing on inland aquaculture. Austria introduced a statement with 21 other member states (not the UK) calling on financial support for increased production and employment in the sector. Finland, supported by 17 member states (not the UK), tabled a text amending the EMFF, but also covering marine aquaculture. The UK stressed the need for growth to be market led.
On 15 May the Agriculture Council discussed the greening of pillar one. Previous discussions had revealed widely held concerns that the Commission’s proposals would not work in practice. The Commission tabled a working paper suggesting that certain agri-environment and other environmental certification schemes could, under certain circumstances, be considered as proof that one or more of the greening measures had been met, and suggesting some changes to the measures on permanent grassland and greening. All member states welcomed the Commission’s paper as a step in the right direction. The UK welcomed a “green by definition” option but stressed the need to deliver equivalence of effort across the EU, and that there should be no double funding in pillar two agri-environment schemes of costs and activities already paid for though pillar one greening.
Some member states wanted to see greater flexibility on greening, allowing a choice of measures at a national level from an EU agreed menu. The UK acknowledged the value of a menu approach but, with some others, argued for a transfer of the full greening component from pillar one (direct payments) to pillar two (rural development) as the most straightforward and environmentally effective way to do greening.
The presidency would present a progress report at the June council.
Sweden raised an AOB regarding the requirement to stun animals before slaughter, and the abuses of the derogation, which were taking place on non-religious grounds. This was raised in the context of the forthcoming report on labelling. The UK fully endorsed the Swedish position, agreeing that labelling could represent the solution. In response, the Commission confirmed that while member states could apply stricter national slaughter rules, they did not have the power to adopt legally binding measures to impose one particular interpretation of the derogation. They referred member states to recommendations set out in a 2011 report, and confirmed they would be launching a study assessing the level of public interest in this type of labelling.