Visegrad and Balkans hit out at Commission over biofuels phase-out proposal

The declaration will be tabled at the next meeting of the EU Agriculture Council in October. [Alex Proimos/Flickr]

The Visegrad group and two Balkan countries signed a joint declaration urging the European Commission to reconsider its proposal to gradually phase out first generation biofuels after 2020 and think about the consequences.

In July 2016, the Commission proposed a gradual phase-out of food-based biofuels, which should be replaced by “more advanced biofuels” which do not compete with food crops [See background].

The draft legislation is currently being scrutinised by European Parliament committees, which are preparing their opinions on it. A vote in the plenary is expected in January 2018.

The Commission’s proposal has triggered mixed reactions. Several environmental NGOs believe the EU executive is moving in the right direction and urge it to go further by imposing a full ban.

On the other hand, the biofuels industry, especially bioethanol, has long called for a system to differentiate between biofuels based on sustainability criteria. Bioethanol producers claim that Europe should focus on phasing out fossil fuels as well as biofuels that compete for land with food crops and drive deforestation, such as palm oil.

MEPs criticise Commission’s ‘flawed’ policy on post-2020 biofuels

The European Commission’s “scientifically unfounded” U-turn on biofuels will have significant implications for the agriculture sector and risks increasing the imports of GM animal feed from third countries, lawmakers warn.

As far as farmers are concerned, they believe that the production of biofuels gives them valuable access to markets outside the subsidies-based CAP.

Adverse impact on rural development

A joint declaration of the Agricultural Ministers of Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) as well as Bulgaria and Romania shows that a significant number of EU member states do not see the Commission’s proposal in a positive light.

The declaration will be tabled at the next meeting of the EU Agriculture Council in October.

The seven member states pointed out the importance of biofuels production to rural development and emphasised that the current level of renewable energy sources of agricultural origin “should be maintained or if possible increase after 2020”.

“Especially in light of current and expected crop surpluses in Europe, efforts  to phase out biofuels produced from agricultural crops will adversely impact European energy  security,  will  reduce  European  feed  security,  will  result  in  even  lower  rural  incomes,  will  force  investors  to  flee  Europe,  in  addition  to  making  the  attainment  of  climate  goals  more  difficult,” the EU ministers stated.

In addition, they urged the Commission to “comprehensively” analyse its proposal and consider keeping the present requirements related to the use of food and feed crops for the production of biofuels in EU countries and third countries.

“Imported biofuels and raw materials should be analysed to ensure they meet the same requirements as for EU production,” the declaration noted.