I attended the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22 April in Luxembourg. I was accompanied by 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, water and rural affairs, who represented the UK on fisheries issues. Alun Davies AM and Richard Lochhead MSP also attended.
The substantive business of the Agriculture Council began with the presidency reporting back on the first six trilogue meetings with the European Parliament. Some technical issues had been resolved, and some major political aspects identified. A further 28 meetings were scheduled before the end of June to negotiate on the major political issues plus parallel technical meetings too. The aim is to reach agreement on the full package at the June Agriculture Council. The major political issues would be resolved then, but the presidency called for flexibility from member states as it will be necessary to update the negotiating mandate over the coming weeks.
The Commission introduced a proposal for transitional measures for the CAP in 2014. These roll over the majority of existing CAP rules for direct payments and rural development, but use the budgetary figures for the multiannual financial framework agreed by the European Council in February. The presidency explained that the Parliament planned to give its opinion on the transitional measures in July and that trilogues to agree the dossier would be held in the autumn.
The presidency reported on the trilogues with the European Parliament on the basic regulation of the common fisheries policy reform. Discussions had been constructive, but there was still no agreement on a number of key political issues, including the approach to be taken to the definition of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the detail of the discard ban, regionalisation and fleet capacity. The presidency received support for its planned approach from member states and concluded that they now had support to intensify the work of the trilogues. The aim would be to agree a revised Council mandate for the negotiations in COREPER, with further discussion at the May Fisheries Council.
Common organisation of the markets in the fishery and aquaculture products—state of play
The presidency reported on progress in the first two trilogues. Outstanding issues were in relation to mandatory consumer information and delegated and implementing acts. There would be a third trilogue, with any outstanding issues to be settled in COREPER. The presidency was optimistic that outstanding issues can be resolved ahead of May Council.
Action plan for reducing incidental catches of seabirds in fishing gears presentation by the Commission.
The Commission presented its plan of action, designed to improve the situation for a number of species threatened with extinction by reducing incidental catches to the lowest possible level. They were proposing a bottom-up, regionalised approach with responsibility given to member states and stakeholders. The Netherlands and the UK welcomed the plan. The UK highlighted serious concerns about by-catches of seabirds and argued that the plan gave the EU the opportunity to be recognised as a world leader in responding to this problem. Other member states gave a more guarded response.
AOB: state of play of fisheries protocols: Morocco and Mauritania
Spain introduced the AOB point they had raised, pressed for information on the prospects of a new fishing protocol with Morocco and for further improvements to the protocol with Mauritania. The Commission said they had worked intensively to progress the protocol with Morocco, including at ministerial level. On Mauritania the Commission would continue to seek sustainable and viable improvements to the protocol. They confirmed that if the protocol remained underused then they would make use of the break clause in order to protect the interest of taxpayers.