My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Hilary Benn) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My honourable friends the Minister for Marine and the Natural Environment (Huw Irranca-Davies), and the Minister for Food, Farming and Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) represented the United Kingdom at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg on 19 and 20 October. Richard Lochhead MSP also attended.
On agriculture, France, spearheading a large group of member states, had deposited a paper with the presidency calling for an active policy of dairy market management, and specifically, a €300 million dairy fund. This latter point complemented a call from the European Parliament in its first reading on the 2010 budget for a fund of the same proportion.
Responding to the paper, the Commission observed that each of the measures called for had either been addressed, or was the subject of ongoing study, or discussion. As for the dairy fund, the Commission said they would make €280 million available for the dairy sector from the 2010 ceiling, subject to a few conditions. First, as competence for budgetary matters rested with ECOFIN, it would be for finance Ministers to decide whether to take the proposal forward. Second, should the fund be adopted, there would be no further money available as provision against other crises in 2010. Third, the Commission asserted that it had done all it could to respond to the crisis and no further action would be possible.
Greece and Belgium called for the full €300 million fund to be made available. France acknowledged that short-term measures were on track, but insisted that more needed to be done and that a new regulatory framework was necessary for the dairy sector—a point rejected by the UK who clarified that it did not support the French paper or the dairy fund. Only the Netherlands, Denmark and Malta agreed with the UK.
The Commission also presented its quarterly report on the sector, confirming a boost in prices for most dairy commodities (only cheese was lagging and that was in the normal order of things); as well as its proposal to assume new emergency powers to respond to dairy market disturbances, and to provide funds for dairy market restructuring by way of new rules on calculating the superlevy.
Turning to poultry meat, the presidency secured a qualified majority on the proposal to extend marketing standards to preparations. Voting against the proposal, the UK made a statement to the council minutes, noting the disproportionate cost impact on the UK market (some 66 per cent of the Community market), as well as criticising the Commission's failure to carry out an impact assessment before adopting the draft legislation. The presidency noted both the UK's comments and the fact that the proposal had been adopted.
With the Standing Committee failing to reach a qualified majority for or against approval for use in food and feed (not planting) of three new GM maize varieties, the dossiers came to council for confirmation of voting intentions. The presidency noted that, with no qualified majority for or against, the dossiers would now revert back to the Commission to complete the decision-making process.
There were three AOB agriculture items. Poland tabled its paper urging council to consider its request to continue financing agricultural land purchases through to 2013. Portugal, supported by the UK, called on the Commission to suspend import duties on cane sugar. Austria called for activation of export refunds for landlocked cereals producers, as well as help with transport costs and the opening of intervention for maize in response to falling cereals prices.
Turning to fisheries, council reached political agreement on the text of the new regulation to update the monitoring and enforcement framework for EU fisheries. The Commission, referring to a recently tabled presidency compromise that resolved some concerns of member states, highlighted a number of remaining issues.
The presidency and Commission then held trilateral meetings with nearly all member states during the day to fashion a final compromise. The UK had the first trilateral and in response to the president’s request for member nations we focussed on three significant priorities that had to be resolved, which comprised an offending provision on recreational fishing; demands on weighing tolerance; and the removal of the provision on minimum levels. The Commission also confirmed in the trilateral that pelagic weighting would be addressed.
When council reconvened, the presidency tabled a final compromise which included all the points prioritised by the UK. In a final table round, the compromise was adopted by unanimity.
Council also reached political agreement on the regulation governing fishing opportunities in the Baltic for 2010. Trilateral meetings were held with interested member states during the day and agreement was reached on a compromise, of which the main elements were reduced TAC cuts for western herring, main Baltic herring, Atlantic salmon and sprat; 10 per cent fishing effort limitations in some zones, a high grading ban and increased selectivity.
Ministers then had an exchange of views on the priorities for the forthcoming negotiations on the annual EU-Norway fisheries agreement which is of significant importance to UK fisheries. The Commission emphasised the difficult context for the negotiations, and the need for member states’ support in the negotiations. The UK stressed the need for a fair solution on Arctic cod, and also the difficult situation on mackerel because of autonomous quotas set by Norway and the Faroes.
Under other fisheries business, Lithuania tabled a paper seeking support for financial assistance for the renewal of outdated fishing vessels. The Commission sought support for a firm EU position in the forthcoming meeting of ICCAT (International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna). Finally, the Commission raised the EU-Guinea (Conakry) Fisheries Partnership agreement signed late 2008. It referred in strong terms to the recent attack on protestors by public authorities and noted international condemnation. Therefore, in these circumstances, the Commission said it was not appropriate to proceed with the legal adoption of the agreement and it would now go through the necessary processes formally to withdraw the relevant proposals.