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Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Volume 576: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2014

I represented the UK at the EU Agriculture Council on 17 February. Scottish Minister, Richard Lochhead, and Welsh Minister, Alun Davies, were also present.

Promotion of EU agricultural products

The Commission presented the main aspects of the new proposal: a focus on third country markets; ending national co-financing to ensure a level playing field; simplifying the scheme by removing the member state pre-selection process; and expanding the scope of the scheme to cover more products.

I was broadly in favour of the Commission’s proposal, noting that the scope should include national quality schemes. However, I stressed that for the budget increase to be justified, schemes would need to bring additional revenue into the EU. Many member states called for promotion to be allowed on the internal market; for national co-financing to be maintained; and for member states to continue pre-selecting projects to transmit to the Commission.

School fruit and milk scheme

The Commission presented its proposal to merge the existing EU school fruit and school milk schemes mainly on efficiency grounds. I and other member states noted that the proposal to transfer provisions on the fixing of aid rates for these schemes from the Council to the European Parliament would not be consistent with the Lisbon treaty. The dossier will now be discussed in detail at working groups.

Dairy sector

The Council discussed a presidency questionnaire on the future of the EU dairy sector following the expiry of milk quotas in 2015. In discussion, two groups emerged: those member states in favour of a “soft landing”—effectively an early end to quota, or a large reduction in quota penalty—and those who wanted market intervention tools which went beyond the recent CAP reform deal and the dairy package.

I spoke in favour of a stable market, noting the long-established position that quotas would end in 2015. To change the system at this late stage would damage the credibility of the EU to see through long-term policy decisions and give certainty to businesses.

The Commission recommended that the issues be taken to the special committee on agriculture, discussed with stakeholders and the European Parliament, and returned to Council ahead of the Commission’s planned report on the dairy sector in June 2014.

Any other business: CAP reform delegated Acts

In response to an AOB request from 27 member states, the Commission defended the latest CAP draft delegated Acts, arguing that they had taken on board member states comments wherever possible, but were constrained by the terms of the basic Act. I called for a more proportionate system of greening and cross-compliance sanctions, while welcoming the Commission’s commitment to secure a workable minimum activity requirement. Over half of member states intervened with a range of outstanding concerns but there was a widespread view that sanctions should be lower.

The Commission repeated its defence of progress and urged member states not to delay agreement of the Acts which should be adopted before the end of the current European Parliament.

African swine fever

There was widespread support from member states for Lithuanian measures to stop the spread of African swine fever. Poland also confirmed that an infected wild boar had been found 1 km from its border with Belarus. Member states urged the Commission to continue to do all it could to lift the Russian trade ban on EU pork products.

Severe weather: Slovenia

Slovenia outlined the impact of a severe snow storm on its agriculture and forestry sector in late January and confirmed that they were planning a call on the EU’s solidarity fund.

The last three AOB items were concluded quickly and without discussion. They were information from the Commission on the implementation of the innovation partnership for agricultural productivity, information from the Netherlands on the outcome of the third global conference on agriculture, food security and climate change, and a report from Lithuania on the conclusions of the 34th conference of EU paying agencies. On the latter item, the Commission underlined the increasing importance of the work of paying agency directors.