I represented the UK at The Eu Agriculture And Fisheries Council on 16 June in Luxembourg. Aileen McLeod MSP was also present.
Organic production and labelling of organic products
The Council discussed the presidency’s latest compromise text on the organic proposal with some member states continuing to call for further changes. On the issue of the presence of non-authorised substances on organic produce, Belgium and a few other member states argued for the ability to apply a strict decertification threshold to all produce. However, I supported the presidency’s text, with some minor modifications proposed by Germany, so that those member states that already use thresholds could continue to do so but for a limited time period. This means that the UK will not be bound by the need to apply a specific decertification threshold and by the end of 2020 this will be the approach that applies across the whole of the EU. Belgium, Bulgaria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, all of whom agreed with the threshold, voted against the proposal. Denmark also voted against it as it disagreed with the move away from mandatory annual inspections to a risk-based approach. I, along with the remaining member states, voted in favour of the proposal which secured a general approach. Trilogues will begin after the summer, once the European Parliament reaches its first reading position.
The Commission introduced its policy statement on setting fishing opportunities in 2016, which was generally welcomed by all member states. Commissioner Vella emphasised the good progress made towards reaching the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) targets under the reformed common fisheries policy. I agreed that we should continue to build on this, aiming to reach MSY by 2016 wherever possible. However, exceptions may be necessary, including the need to minimise discards of by-catch. Some member states, particularly those fishing in the Mediterranean and Black sea, argued for a gradual transition to MSY, with a final deadline of 2020. I also stressed the importance of the demersal landing obligation, including the need to adjust catch limits for those species covered next year, and the need to progress multi-annual management plans for the North sea and western waters.
Any other business items
Country of Origin Labelling
The Commission presented its reports on possible mandatory country of origin labelling for a range of foods including dairy and certain meats. The Commission concluded that consumer interest was not strong enough to justify the likely extra costs. I, along with France, Italy and several other member states, stressed that the issue required further consideration, especially for milk and dairy products. Luxembourg, Poland and Ireland, however, stated that they were not in favour of further discussion as the Commission’s reports highlighted that the costs outweighed the benefits.
The presidency confirmed that a final position on the animal health regulation had been reached following trilogue discussions. I congratulated the presidency on reaching agreement on the proposal but explained that we had been unable to fully support it, specifically the areas where delegated acts will be used to define technical detail such as the list of diseases to which the regulation applies. This was an important point of principle because the list is a technical issue rather than a political one, which should be determined by member states experts.
Russian import restrictions on fishing sector
Estonia provided an update on the unjustified export ban on all fish products originating from Estonia and Latvia that was imposed by Russia on 4 June, following a recent Russian official audit on their control systems. It called on the Commission to raise the issue in meetings with Russia and also to change the rules to allow for increased carrying over of 2015 fisheries quotas into 2016 and urgent assistance under the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF). I, along with Finland, Poland, France and Lithuania, supported Estonia and Latvia, arguing that it was crucial to maintain unity in the face of unjustified trade restrictions from Russia, that current actions were clearly disproportionate and that we needed to stand up to such aggression. The Commission stated that it would endeavour to do all it could to ease the impacts of the ban, including supporting the sector from the EMFF and considering the option of carrying over 2015 fishing quotas into 2016 on the basis of scientific advice.
Outcome of the Visegrad meeting
Slovenia presented the outcome of a recent meeting of the Visegrad Agriculture Ministers and those Ministers from Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia at which they discussed trading practices in the food supply chain, Forest Europe and CAP simplification. Several member states intervened to support the concerns about unfair trading practices in the food chain which the Commission stressed it was an issue it would look at further.
Extension of eligibility period of expenditure for 2007-13 Rural Development
The Commission confirmed that it would not be extending the eligibility for 2007-13 rural development expenditure for an additional six months, despite further calls from Romania and several other members states to do so. The Commission explained that it had not been possible due to a lack of legal provisions and limited financial and political flexibility.
Extension of eligibility period of expenditure under the European Fisheries Fund
Similarly to the item on rural development expenditure, the Commission also confirmed that it would not be extending the eligibility period for 2007-13 fisheries funding. Instead, it would look at existing flexibilities within the current legislation to assist member states.
International Year of Plant Health 2020
The presidency reported back from the food and agriculture organisation conference on 9 June, which had approved the initiative to declare 2020 the international year of plant health.