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27/08/2016

CAP: Still a work in progress

Agriculture & Food

CAP: Still a work in progress

A farm in the UK.

[Matthew Black / Flickr]

In June 2013, politicians approved the first major reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in a decade, following months of haggling over quotas, subsidies, and measures to improve environmental accountability.

But when the new rules took full effect in 2015, a year behind schedule, some of the same leaders who approved it were calling for changes to policies they said were too cumbersome to administer.

In 2016, the European Commission took initiatives to simplify the CAP and help farmers implement it, saying the process will be continued until 2020.

Background

Launched in 1962, the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, is a system of EU agricultural subsidies and programmes comprising the biggest single budget outlay for the EU – nearly 40% of today’s budget compared to nearly 70% in the 1970s.

The CAP has always been a work in progress. Reforms begun in the 1990s sought to phase out wasteful production quotas. In 2003, efforts were taken to “decouple” subsidies from specific crops or products, though the deal agreed on 26 June 2013 - and finally implemented in 2015 - changed that.

“Systematic decoupling appears no longer to be the ultimate objective. With the exception of Germany, all [countries] are taking up the ‘recoupling’ option,” according to an analysis by the Farm Europe think tank.

The new CAP furthermore delayed market liberalisation efforts by extending sugar quotas and vine planting rights. It also introduced new features:

  • Flexibility to shift money between funds for direct payments to farmers (Pillar 1) and rural development (Pillar 2);
  • Incentives to encourage young people to become farmers and support family farming;
  • The gradual harmonisation of Pillar 1 payments between farmers in the older EU member states and countries that have joined since 2004;
  • “Greening” measures aimed at promoting soil conservation and protecting biodiversity.

The CAP is outlined in four regulations covering rural developmentfinancingdirect payments to farmers and market measures. It is broadly intended to ensure food security, promote sustainable farming and environmental practices, and help balance development to avoid rural areas becoming pockets of poverty.

The CAP is not just about supporting farmers. Nearly one-quarter, or €95.6 billion, of the programme’s €408.3-billion budget for 2014-2020 goes towards tourism and other rural development projects whose costs are shared through state and programme funding. The bulk, €312.7 billion, is paid directly to farmers.

The CAP is the EU’s largest and costliest programme, accounting for €4 in every €10 spent by the EU. Some 1,100 Commission employees in 11 agricultural directorates are involved in administering the programme.

National, regional and local authorities all play a role in administering the programme that the Commission estimates has around 8 million beneficiaries – out of an EU population of more than 500 million.

Despite its monolithic political and fiscal importance, agriculture is a small part of Europe’s economy: it accounts for 1.7% of GDP and 4.6% of employment, OECD figures show. The EU and the United States compete for being the world’s largest agricultural exporters, which EU trade reaching €120 billion in 2013.

The legislative process was a historic one – it was the first time the European Parliament had an equal role in influencing farm legislation and financing, powers gained under the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.

The slow approval process meant the agreement was implemented a year late – in 2015. Flustered by new rules and complex reporting requirements, agricultural ministers called for simplification in key areas: greening, the approval process for rural development projects, and reducing the reporting requirements for producer organisations. The resulting changes took effect in 2016.

Issues

When the European Commission presented a framework for the 2014-2020 Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), it marked the most ambitious effort to link farming to environmental performance since the programme was launched in 1962.

Dacian Cioloș, a Romanian agricultural economist who was a Commissioner at the time, unveiled in October 2011 what he called “a new partnership between European citizens and its farmers to meet the challenges of food security, sustainable use of natural resources, and growth”.

But over the next two years, the proposed environmental standards became some of the most toxic issues in a debate that was historic in itself. Under powers gained in the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, for the first time, the European Parliament had more than a rubber-stamp role in approving the CAP.

For their part, national leaders who were simultaneously juggling snowballing financing and debt crises wanted more say over how to spend and administer CAP funds. At a cost of around €55 billion annually, the CAP accounts for 40% of total EU expenditures.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Minister of Agriculture, and a lead negotiator of the 2014-2020 policy during his country’s EU presidency in the first half of 2013, called the ultimate deal a good one for farming.

“I think we have found a balance that everyone can agree with,” said Coveney, a former MEP. “This has been new for everybody. But we do have a responsibility to deliver what in my opinion is the most important sector in Europe, that being the agri and food industry.”

But with the ink barely dry on the agreement, member states complained that some of the administrative measures contained in the new framework were unmanageable.

In a letter dated 15 December 2014, and obtained by EurActiv.com, agricultural ministers from the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Sweden, and the UK called for a “simpler, more effective CAP with jobs and growth at the heart of this policy”. They specifically called for changes relating to new regulations on crop diversification, requiring farmers to maintain permanent grasslands and so-called ecological focus areas, or EFAs, that are designed to encourage biological diversity.

Simplification measures

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan admitted that the new CAP was “more complicated than it needs to be,” and announced new measures of simplification, including:

  • Increased flexibility in mapping requirements for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs);
  • An extension of the deadline for aid applications; and
  • More flexibility on eligibility conditions for voluntary coupled support.

“For everybody's benefit, we need to make things simpler,” Hogan said. “This is one of my main objectives over the next few years — reducing administrative burdens while making sure that all interests are defended."

In addition, the Commission reduced the number of on-the-spot checks through better sampling methods; increased the level of preventive preliminary cross checks, and provided the possibility of modifying parcel declarations for greening after submission.

“I proposed a new, fairer system of penalties for errors, as well as a ‘yellow card’ system for first-time mistakes. This should hopefully end the stress and anxiety that many hard working farm families feel when filling out detailed forms,” Hogan said, adding that the opportunity for preliminary checks of aid applications to be made by authorities before the application is formally closed will see errors reduced as farmers are proactively helped to ensure that their applications are accurate.

“The next round of CAP simplification will see 200 existing EU regulations reduced to 40 or 50, cutting red tape for farmers, operators, and national administrations alike,” the EU official underlined.

Hogan: Trade deals have not harmed European agriculture

Opening up to new markets in Asia and Africa has helped the EU become a net exporter of agricultural products, Phil Hogan told EurActiv.com, responding to criticism of trade deals.

EurActiv.com

In an interview with EurActiv, Hogan also said that the CAP itself was not static.

“It has evolved considerably over the last 20 years. Indeed, many of the elements of the 2013 Reform are phased over several years – such as the fairer distribution of CAP Direct Payments within and between member states, or the greening requirements aimed at halting monoculture and soil sealing, which are only starting to have an impact now,” he noted.

Making the CAP “greener”

“Green” policies play a key role in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). While €44.2 billion was spent under the Environment Axis in 2007-2013, approximately €112.5 billion is earmarked for 2014-2020.

INFOGRAPHIC: How much greener is the new CAP?

Green policies play a key role in the new CAP for 2014-2020. According to the latest data, about €62 billion, is earmarked for the “greening envelope” of direct payments, and €50.4 billion from the Rural Development budget.

EurActiv.com

Green funds accounted for at least 25% of the Rural Development Pillar in 2007-2013, while they represent at least 30% in 2014-2020, under both Pillars (Direct Payments and Rural Development). Regarding Direct Payments, the “Greening” part will be introduced in the 2016 EU budget.

However, the new CAP may not be as “green” as the European Commission claims. A study by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) and BirdLife Europe found a €1 billion decline in the actual funding for “green” measures meant to benefit the environment on farmland.

The EEB noted that over 80% of protected extensive grasslands in Natura 2000 sites were in an “unfavorable condition”. Agriculture is also responsible for 10% the EU’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

The report stated that the original idea behind the reform of the post-2013 CAP was to ensure public money was being used to pay for public goods.

“This was translated into good agronomic practices linked with farmers’ direct payments and more ambitious measures for the environment in Rural Development,” the NGOs said. However, “this intention rapidly disappeared, leaving us with very weak basic regulations,” they claim.

Commission’s 'green' CAP questionable, study says

The implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the period 2014-2020 is not as “green” as the European Commission is claiming, a new study has found.

EurActiv.com

The European Commission defended its “greening” policy, saying that for the first time, direct payments to farmers were linked to a prescribed list of environmental practices.

“Based on the notifications received so far, half of EU’s farmers are now obliged to carry out environmental practices on 80% of the farmland,” an EU spokesperson told EurActiv.

The official explained that it was now a legal requirement to spend at least 30% of the EU rural development budget on a number of environmental and climate measures.

“Looking across the 118 Rural Development programmes, we are actually spending almost half (49%) of the budget on these measures, so going beyond that legal requirement,” the spokesman said, adding that this includes around 16% earmarked for payments for Areas with Natural Constraints, which “help prevent land abandonment and thereby maintaining biodiversity in the farmed landscapes.”

“Emissions stemming from agriculture have declined by 24% since 1990, while total output of agricultural production was maintained thanks to land management using modern technologies, improved knowledge and specific practices combat climate change,” the spokesperson said.

Another report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) recently found “unreasonably high costs” related to EU-funded schemes to support environmentally-friendly agriculture in the UK, Italy, Denmark, and Portugal.

Only 5 of the 28 audited projects proved to be cost-effective, according to the report, published on 21 January.

Asked by EurActiv, the Commission’s agriculture spokesperson, Daniel Rosario, underlined that the weaknesses identified by EU auditors were mainly related to the management of projects at the national level.

EU green farming projects 'too costly', auditors say

A new report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) has found “unreasonably high costs” related to EU-funded schemes to support environmentally-friendly agriculture in the UK, Italy, Denmark and Portugal.

EurActiv.com

The EU official also sought to put play down the scheme’s significance for the EU budget, saying the green farming projects “account for roughly 0.6% of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) budget for Rural Development” in the 2007-2013 period, or €614 million.

Looking forward, Rosario said the EU executive had taken steps to offer better guidance to member states for the implementation of the 2014-2020 rural development programmes (RDPs).

However, he said that “a balance needs to be found” and warned about “the risk of excessive administrative burden” and “financial constraints” placed on the member states who often balk at excessive red tape coming from Brussels.

Supporting young farmers

Another key objective of the EU’s rural development policy is to replace an ageing workforce on European farms.

Farmers aged under 35 represented just 6% of all holding managers in 2013, according to a survey by Eurostat. 31.1% were managed by people aged 65 or over, and a further 24.7% by managers aged 55 to 64.

Commission hopes new CAP grants will boost number of young farmers

The new Common Agricultural Policy for the period 2014-2020 is expected to provide nearly 180,000 young farmers with an installation grant, an EU spokesman has told EurActiv.

EurActiv.com

This raises questions about the long-term viability of the sector. To try and address this, the Commission says the new CAP will provide nearly 180,000 young farmers with an installation grant.

“In addition to this, the recent CAP reform supported the Commission initiative to provide a 25% top-up to the direct payment amounts for young farmers under 40 for the first five years after they enter the sector,” Rosario stressed.

New markets closed

Access to new markets is another area where the EU hopes to make a difference for struggling farmers.

However, this promise failed to materialise. A Russian embargo on Western food products combined with the lifting of EU milk quotas in March 2015, falling Chinese demand and changing dietary habits, led to a drop in prices for beef, pork, and milk. The fruit and vegetable sector was also severely hit.

Commission targets new Asian markets for EU dairy exports

A €500 million agricultural aid package adopted by the European Commission on Monday (7 September) will aim to develop new dairy export markets in Asia, an EU source said.

EurActiv.com

The Commission had to react in an emergency, unlocking €500 million in aid to farmers, as angry protesters took the streets of Brussels. On 10 June 2016, the EU executive also extended for a further year the safety net measures for the European fruit and vegetable sector, which were due to expire at the end of the month.

The safety net measures were first introduced in 2014 in response to the Russian ban on the import of EU fruit and vegetables.

Time to reconsider EU sanctions against Moscow, say German farmers

The EU should reconsider its sanctions against Moscow due to the Ukraine crisis, as the farming sector is struggling, the German Farmers' Association (DBV) told EurActiv.

EurActiv.com

“The global economic situation and the worldwide economic growth is not the best, particularly the situation in China. 3% less economic growth in China means 1% less worldwide,” said Peter Pascher from the German Farmers’ Association. Pascher told EurActiv it was time to reconsider EU sanctions against Moscow and find a solution to the conflict.

Trade and access to global markets: The “third pillar”

The Commission has described international trade as the "third pillar" of the CAP.

The EU executive believes that European agriculture should be market-orientated and competitive on the global stage. This is reflected in the CAP’s Rural Development pillar, which aims at supporting 360,000 farm modernisation projects and improve access to new markets for EU produce.

But the EU executive has been heavily criticised for its negotiation stance with foreign countries.

In an interview with EurActiv, Greek Minister of Agricultural Development Evangelos Apostolou said Europe should defend the interests of producers who face low-cost competition from third countries. “It is also important to develop a European export credit tool to encourage exports along with the use of financial instruments for granting soft loans,” he added.

The Commission retorts that it always carries out a careful impact assessment before sealing any new trade agreement.

“Bilateral trade agreements provide considerable opportunities for the EU agri-food sector as a whole,” Hogan told EurActiv, adding that the EU’s increased global trade in agriculture products has helped the EU agri-food sector expand, thereby providing additional growth and jobs.

“In global terms, EU agricultural exports have performed much better than most other sectors in recent years and the EU has become a net exporter, especially for added-value products. This would indicate that commercial deals have not harmed European agriculture. Indeed, as people in Asia and Africa have more disposable income, we see they want to consume European food and drink, and our trade agreements open up these growing markets.”

Geographical indications: A “hot potato” for TTIP

Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, recently told EurActiv that Washington respected Europe’s claim for geographic protection of food in ongoing EU-US talks over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

But he said this should not prevent similar US products from being marketed under brands used on the American market.

“This is not an easy issue. It’s an issue that is going to require a lot of work, and some very creative thinking to be able to navigate this thicket where you want to protect value, but you don’t want to do it at the expense of products that have been marketed under that name for a considerable period of time,” Vilsack told EurActiv.

Athens stepped up its threats in response, saying it was ready to veto a TTIP deal unless it ensures increased protection for key agricultural geographical indicators.

Athens is particularly concerned about traditional feta cheese, which is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) crucial for Greek livestock. Similar concerns were expressed by Rome regarding Parmesan cheese.

New plant breeding techniques in legal limbo

Related to EU-US trade talks is whether so-called new plant breeding techniques should be considered as GMOs under European law.

NBTs focus on developing new seed traits within a given species through genetic engineering. They are seen as a promising new field for the agri-food sector and “are even necessary to meet the challenges of global changes such as population growth and climate change”, according to a report by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), the EU executive’s in-house scientific body meant to inform policymaking.

Fresh EU-US trade spat brewing over new plant breeding techniques

EXCLUSIVE / After Europe's decision to keep its door shut to GMOs, the European Commission is trying its best to avoid opening a new trade row with the United States over how to regulate so-called 'new plant breeding techniques' (NPBTs).

EurActiv.com

Backers of the technology say NBTs should not be considered as GMOs because no foreign DNA is present in the resulting plants, which might have developed naturally. To opponents, they are just another attempt at selling GMOs to Europeans through the back door.

The European Commission has delayed a much-awaited legal analysis of whether new plant breeding techniques should be considered GMOs or not. The analysis was supposed to have been completed by the first quarter of 2016.

A Commission source told EurActiv that the process was still ongoing and that there was no particular timeframe for its completion.

“Plant breeding techniques can be very promising because in a way we are accelerating the classical breeding of plants,” said Jan Huitema an MEP from the Liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament.  “In a lot of those techniques, we don’t talk about GMOs that use genes of others species into plants, but we stick to the gene or the gene cocktail of the plant itself. So the outcome of those new breeding techniques is not different than we could have with classical breeding,” he told EurActiv in an interview.

Jon Parr, Chief Operating Officer at Swiss agri-food giant Syngenta, agrees that Europe should take a science-based approach. Speaking to EurActiv, he said innovation in plant breeding is critical to improving crop productivity without compromising on the quality or environmental sustainability of production.

“In this respect, new breeding techniques that bring together the best which nature has to offer are critical. Such techniques can help to improve the nutrition and taste of food or ensure it is more tolerant to climatic stress or can resist better the diseases which destroy crops,” Parr said.

Europe, he continued, is blessed with some of the best breeders in the world, whether they work at large companies like Syngenta, or independently.

“Together, they have helped put Europe in a leadership position. What I think we need now is a robust, predictable, and science-based legal framework to ensure that Europe can maximise its competitive advantage and enable all stakeholders to share in the social, economic and environmental benefits that can be delivered through new plant breeding techniques,” Parr stressed.

But green campaigners do not share the same view. In a joint position paper published in March, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Europe and IFOAM stressed that EU GMO legislation should be fully applied to NBTs.

“Legal analysis shows that they are covered by EU GMO law. If they were to escape EU regulations, any potential negative effects on food, feed or environmental safety would go unchecked. European consumers, farmers, and breeders would have no way to avoid GMOs,” the paper reads.

“The Commission should leave no doubt that all products of genetic engineering are subject to EU GMO law which requires a rigorous risk assessment, detectability, and labelling.”

CAP beyond 2020: Entering the digital era

Meanwhile, discussions have already started about the future CAP, beyond 2020. Evangelos Apostolou, the Greek Agriculture Minister, said a group had begun work on the subject.

The group “is monitoring the evolution of the CAP in the first year of its implementation and provides us with opinions on the issues that are raised,” he told EurActiv, saying the goal is to propose reforms both at EU and national level.

“Our thoughts for the future CAP are being formed now, but the basic principle is to move forward to a fairer CAP, with a more balanced distribution of aid to enhance both the sustainability and profitability of farmers,” he said.

In the European Parliament, a group of lawmakers from the Socialists and Democrats group (S&D) recently called on the Commission to adopt a new farm strategy that puts agriculture at the heart of society and responds to the strategic challenges of the 21st century.

Marc Tarabella (Belgium), Eric Andrieu (France), Jean-Paul Denanot (France), Nicola Caputo (Italy) and Tibor Szanyi (Hungary) signed an opinion article in La Libre in which they denounce the CAP’s inability to support the farming sector. The CAP, they say, has neither helped to guarantee farmers’ revenue, protect jobs or stabilise prices.

MEPs call for a complete rethink of the CAP

A group of MEPs have called on the EU to adopt a new agricultural strategy that puts agriculture at the heart of European society and responds to the strategic challenges of the 21st century. EurActiv France reports.

EurActiv.com

On the Liberal side, Jan Huitema MEP (ALDE) says the CAP should focus on investments to improve farmer’s competitiveness on global markets and reduce their dependence on subsidies.

He recently authored a draft report saying innovations were being blocked because of restrictive EU legislation. “It is not always unwillingness, but most of the time the EU legislation is old,” he wrote.

One promising area is the development of digital tools for agriculture. According to some, an “agri-tech revolution” is underway and new methods like precision farming are emerging as an innovation-driven solution to environmental issues related to agriculture.

Precision farming is based on the optimised management of inputs in a field according to actual crop needs. It involves data-based technologies, including satellite positioning systems like GPS, remote sensing, and the Internet, to manage crops and reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides and water.

Europe entering the era of ‘precision agriculture’

SPECIAL REPORT / The agricultural sector has stepped into the digital era, in an effort to respond to rising global nutrition needs and tackle the environmental crisis.

EurActiv.com

The Commission believes that the development of precision farming practices will provide EU farmers with new opportunities to increase their productivity.

Precision farmers are able to make the best use of pesticides and fertilizers, contributing to soil and groundwater protection while increasing production efficiency. By using sensors, farmers are able to identify specific areas of the field in need of a particular treatment and to focus the application of chemicals on these specific points only, reducing the amount of chemical used and preserving the environment.

The quality of products is improved as a result, and energy consumption reduced significantly.

According to data provided by the European Agricultural Machinery (CEMA), there are 450 new machinery types in Europe, which employ 135,000 people directly, and 125,000 via distribution and service networks.

Support schemes exist under Pillar 2 of the CAP to promote farmers’ ability to invest in Precision Farming technologies such as for example, precision fertilizer spreaders.

The European Parliament recently adopted a report on technological solutions for sustainable agriculture, which recognised precision farming as particularly promising for the future.

“We take the view that the principles underpinning precision farming can generate significant benefits for the environment, increase farmers' incomes, rationalise the use of agricultural machinery and significantly increase resource efficiency, including the use of water for irrigation,” the report reads, encouraging the Commission to promote such technologies.

But MEPs also acknowledged limits to the widespread adoption of precision farming techniques, including their adaptability to all farm types and sizes.

Positions

CAP state-of-play

Referring to the midterm review of the EU’s long-term budget for 2014-2020 scheduled for this year and the CAP’s role, Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, told EurActiv.com:

“Obviously, there are a series of ongoing studies and internal discussions, so we can’t preempt them. However, I would underline that the CAP is not static. It has evolved considerably over the last 20 years. Indeed, many of the elements of the 2013 Reform are phased over several years – such as the fairer distribution of CAP Direct Payments within and between member states, or the greening requirements aimed at halting monoculture and soil sealing, which are only starting to have an impact now.”

Given the challenges of climate change and global food security, he predicted that agriculture policy will receive more attention globally in the coming years.

Former European Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potočnik, recently told EurActiv: “The Common Agricultural Policy, EU policy fully funded from Brussels, can provide an excellent opportunity to contribute to reaching the SDGs. Whilst, the latest reform and the inclusion of the greening payments may go some way towards greater agricultural sustainability, there is still a long way to go. The SDGs are solid pillars upon which future reforms can be based. If we base our reforms on the SDGs, it will not only allow Europe to step up to its responsibilities in playing its part in achieving them, but could also provide an example for other countries in the development of their own national policies.”

“In this context, the European Union should also make full use in its research programmes of all opportunities to tackle the collective world problems addressed by the SDGs and foster the relevant knowledge,” he added.

Iman Boot, deputy head of Unit in the DG Agriculture and Rural Development, recently said that despite current difficulties, EU farming has great opportunities. “We have tremendous challenges in agriculture clearly […] but we have some good ground for optimism. We have fantastic opportunities as well,” Boot noted.

“One opportunity is the promise of precision farming, which offers enormous possibilities to increase our productivity in order to produce more with less input,” he underlined, adding that technology-driven practices have already been developed in the EU.

Ulrich Adam, secretary general of the European Agricultural Machinery Industry Association (CEMA), believes that the EU should promote further research and technology development as well as facilitate a faster and inclusive uptake in European agriculture.

“The EU should, therefore, try to work on a more coherent and impactful approach towards precision farming, one that ensures greater alignment between the respective policies. For this, the different Directorates-General in the Commission – AGRI, GROW, ENVI, CONNECT, and the JRC – should work more closely together, for instance, as part of a common taskforce.”

He also noted that Europe was a very fertile ground as shown by the range of recent innovations coming from the agricultural machinery industry. “This said, due to their larger field size, the US has often been an easier entry point for certain Precision Farming technologies coming to the market.”

Russian embargo

The sanctions duel between the EU and Russia is a major worry for farmers. Copa-Cogeca - the organisation of European farmers and farm cooperatives - welcomed the European Commission’s announcement in July 2015 of plans to support farmers hit by the trade embargo, imposed as a result of the Ukraine conflict.

“EU dairy, pig meat and fruit and vegetable growers are suffering enormously from the export ban imposed by the Federal Republic of Russia,” Copa-Cogeca Secretary Pekka Pesonen said in a statement [pdf] on 13 July 2015. The trade embargo “has cut approximately half, €5.5 billion, of our agri-food exports. We, therefore, welcome [Agricultural Commissioner] Phil Hogan’s announcement at the EU Farm Ministers meeting today to present … a proposal to support fruit and vegetable growers in the wake of the Russian crisis. This will help to stabilise the market but we need to analyse the details first.”

According to Greece’s Minister of Agricultural Development, Evangelos Apostolou, the imposition of the Russian embargo on agricultural products from the EU has created huge problems for Greek exports of agricultural products.

“In 2013, the codes [of products] that Russia has banned accounted for 74% of our total exports of agricultural products to Russia, which was the first worldwide export destination for kiwifruit, fresh peaches, strawberries, cherries, nectarines and bass,” he told EurActiv, adding that any attempt to solve the problem is “entirely legitimate and necessary”.

“The EU should reconsider its sanctions against Moscow due to the Ukraine crisis, as the farming sector is struggling”, the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) recently told EurActiv.

Peter Pascher, DBV ‘s Head of Unit, said that the Russian embargo had severely hit the agricultural sector in Germany, “directly and indirectly”.

“It is time to “rethink” the EU’s sanctions, and to find solutions to the conflict […] As other member states, we are looking for other markets outside the EU, with a certain success. It is an ongoing process,” he stressed.

Trade agreements

Referring to the impact of TTIP on the agriculture sector Tom Vilsack, the United States Secretary of Agriculture, said, "If the agreement is structured properly it should give a boost to agriculture on both sides of the Atlantic. In order for it to be successful, it must do this.

“Our experience with other trade agreements of a similar nature, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, suggest to me that in fact trade agreements can be beneficial to all parties. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a situation where I gain and you lose, or you gain and I lose. It’s a situation where we can expand agricultural exports on both sides of the ocean,” he noted, adding that there is always going to be a significant market in the US for high-value EU products.

“I think there are market opportunities obviously here in the EU for US products. And I think at the end of the day, the best system is one that provides a variety in choice and enough information for consumers to make an informed choice and then the market will decide and the market usually does a pretty good job of making those kinds of decisions,” Vilsack pointed out.

“The Commission always carries out careful impact assessments of potential trade agreements. Bilateral trade agreements provide considerable opportunities for the EU agri-food sector as a whole […] The EU’s increased global trade in agriculture products has helped the EU agri-food sector expand, thereby providing additional growth and jobs,” European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan said.

“In global terms, EU agricultural exports have performed much better than most other sectors in recent years and the EU has become a net exporter, especially for added-value products. This would indicate that commercial deals have not harmed European agriculture. Indeed, as people in Asia and Africa have more disposable income, we see they want to consume European food and drink, and our trade agreements open up these growing markets,” he added.

New Planet Breeding Techniques

Jan Huitema, a Dutch MEP from the liberal ALDE group in the European Parliament, said that the EU should keep an open mind about new breeding techniques in biotechnology.

“We should see what the promising effects are before we say no,” Huitema told EurActiv in an interview. “We really need to have a discussion on science-based effects to make a decision on this,” he said, adding that plant breeding techniques could be very promising because in a way “we are accelerating the classical breeding of plants”.

“In a lot of those techniques, we don’t talk about GMOs that use genes of others species into plants, but we stick to the gene of the gene cocktail of the plant itself. So the outcome of those new breeding techniques is not different than we could have with classical breeding.”

Jon Parr, Chief Operating Officer at Swiss agri-food giant Syngenta, agrees that Europe should take a science-based approach.

“New breeding techniques that bring together the best which nature has to offer are critical. Such techniques can help to improve the nutrition and taste of food or ensure it is more tolerant to climatic stress or can resist better the diseases which destroy crops,” Parr said and added that Europe was blessed with some of the best breeders in the world, whether they work at large companies like Syngenta, or independently.

“Together, they have helped put Europe in a leadership position. What I think we need now is a robust, predictable, and science-based legal framework to ensure that Europe can maximise its competitive advantage and enable all stakeholders to share in the social, economic and environmental benefits that can be delivered through new plant breeding techniques,” Parr stressed.

In a policy paper that was published on 14 January, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements EU (IFOAM EU) urged the European Commission to classify NPBTs as falling “within the scope of the GMO legislation”.

“These new techniques should be subject to a risk assessment and mandatory traceability and labelling requirements that apply to other GMOs”, the policy paper reads.

According to the organic movement, NPBTs use technology that interferes at the sub-cellular and genomic level.

“Therefore, IFOAM EU considers that they are not compatible with the principles of organic farming and must not be used in it […] Living genetically modified organisms cannot be recalled once a problem is identified, and their release can lead to negative and irreversible environmental impacts”, organic farmers contend, adding that their use in agriculture could lead to genetic contamination of the gene pool and indirectly to reduced agro-biodiversity.”

Timeline

  • 1962: European Economic Community launches the CAP.
  • 1992: Reforms focus on producer rather than market support.
  • 2003: Introduction of stronger food safety, environmental and animal welfare rules.
  • April 2010: Launch of public debate on the EU's future farm policy.
  • Nov. 2010: Commission communication on the CAP towards 2020.
  • 12 Oct. 2011: Commission presents proposals to CAP reform proposals.
  • 2011-2013: Debate on the proposals in the European Parliament and the Council.
  • 20 Oct. 2011: EU agriculture ministers hold first exchange of views on the proposed reform.
  • 7 Nov. 2011: European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee hears national farm ministers.
  • 23-24 January 2013: Agricultural Committee backs a less green, more ‘flexible’ CAP.
  • 12-13 March 2013: Parliamentary debate and vote on the different regulations and implementing acts.
  • April-June 2013: Negotiations between the European Parliament, European Commission and Council of national agricultural ministers.
  • 1 Jan. 2014: New CAP enters into force, but delays in the approval process postpone implementation until 2015.
  • November 2015: European Commission to present proposals to streamline CAP greening, market organisation and other requirements.
  • 2016: Anticipated introduction of CAP streamlining measures.
  • 2017: Planned CAP “health check”.
  • 2020: New EU budget cycle and possible CAP update.

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