EU farm chief: Post-coronavirus recovery should be green and sustainable

EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski. [EC/MARTIGNONI]

The Green Deal remains a flagship policy of the von der Leyen Commission and the EU should aim for a post-COVID-19 recovery that is green and sustainable, Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski told EURACTIV.com in an exclusive interview.

Wojciechowski warned that “it is too early to indicate precisely how Green Deal policy proposals will be affected” by the ongoing outbreak but insisted that society still needs to become resilient and sustainable to deal with a climate crisis that simply will not go away.

Janusz Wojciechowski is Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. He spoke to EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Flexibility and simplification within the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is crucial to dealing with the crisis;
  • The Commission will take further actions if required;
  • COVID-19 will not substantially affect the adoption of transitional CAP arrangements;
  • Co-legislators can still organise interinstitutional negotiations during the outbreak;
  • The EU cannot afford to neglect the environmental objectives of agricultural policy;
  • An agreement on the post-2020 CAP is urgently needed;
  • Commission’s toolbox to react to the crisis include a temporary framework for state aid and ‘green lanes’
  • If serious market disruptions occur, measures (PSA, public intervention…) could be used;
  • Whatever measures we are applying now, we have to be very prudent as we are only at the start of the crisis.

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What were the main concerns raised by EU ministers?

Member states have expressed various concerns during the Agrifish Council on Wednesday (27 March), from the risk of not being able to comply with CAP-related administrative procedures due to a significantly reduced workforce, to logistical issues that could jeopardise the functioning of the food supply chain.

And what was your message to them?

We will respond to these concerns and offer the necessary flexibility and simplification within the CAP in these times of crisis. My services and I will closely monitor the evolution of this situation, and stand ready to further act if required.

EU farm ministers seek targeted measures to withstand COVID-19

EU agriculture ministers have called for further specific and targeted measures to address the difficulties faced by the agri-food sector due to the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions in the movement of foodstuff, changes in the operation of production systems and insufficient workforce.

Could coronavirus delay your agenda on post-2020 CAP talks and, most importantly, on transitional arrangements for the provisional CAP? 

The Commission does not think that the COVID-19 crisis will substantially affect the adoption of the CAP transitional regulation. Member states and the European Parliament are most aware of the importance of ensuring payments to farmers and support to businesses and citizens in rural areas during this crisis, and after.

All parties are determined to advance on this file and have placed it high on their agenda. Both the European Parliament and the EU Council have the capacity to adjust procedures and organise both negotiations and the adoption of proposals, even if physical meetings and personal movements are restricted.

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Bridging measures are necessary to prevent farmers from being financially exposed until the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is agreed, but they may hold up the Commission’s ambition to make the farming sector more environmentally sustainable, the EU auditors warned in their latest opinion.

Do you think this situation could also have an effect on the main topics to be discussed in the post-2020 CAP talks? Ministers and MEPs might change tack by asking for more income support for the post-coronavirus recovery and less for environmental measures.

The Commission is well aware of the income situation of farmers and for this reason, income support is a major component of the CAP reform proposal tabled in June 2018. It will be crucial to carefully monitor the impact of the current crisis on agricultural markets, while ensuring that income support provides resilience to farms.

Nonetheless, the Commission believes that farms must deliver both in economic and environmental terms. The policy proposal aims to combine these two elements more effectively than the current policy. We can certainly not afford to neglect the environmental objectives of agricultural policy.

All parties involved are determined to progress as much and as quickly as possible. It is urgent to have an agreement, for the sake of our farmers who need clarity and predictability, particularly in these times.

But in general, do you think that the Commission’s overall ambition might undergo changes in the post-coronavirus world? Do you think this will lead to a correction of Commission’s strategies announced (like the Farm to Fork) or already rolled out, particularly the Green Deal?

The Green Deal remains a flagship policy of the von der Leyen Commission. The climate crisis is not going away and the need for our society to become sustainable is indispensable to ensure its long-term resilience.

We are now in the middle of a crisis and it is too early to indicate precisely how Green Deal policy proposals will be affected. It is clear, however, that we should aim for a post-COVID-19 recovery that is green and sustainable.

Coronavirus puts on hold unveiling of new EU food policy

The launch of the new EU food policy, the Farm 2 Fork strategy (F2F), will be delayed at least by another month in light of a rescheduling of the Commission’s work programme due to coronavirus outbreak.

On the management of the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission started on the right foot by extending the CAP deadline, which was well received. But now farmers are asking for support measures. What is the full range of tools that you can put in place to relieve farmers in this situation?

For the time being, as announced on Wednesday, the Commission is working on the legal steps to make available to all Member states the possibility to extend the deadline for application for CAP payments.

In addition to this, the Commission has adopted a new Temporary Framework for state aid. Under this temporary framework, farmers can now benefit from a maximum aid of €100,000 per farm and food processing and marketing companies can benefit from a maximum of €800,000.

This amount can be topped up by de minimis aid, a type of national support specific to the agricultural sector that can be granted without prior approval from the Commission. Recently the ceiling of this aid was increased to €20,000 (and up to €25,000 in specific cases). This means that the total national support that can be granted per farm adds up to €120,000 (or €125,000).

Furthermore, the Commission is working to ensure a continuous flow of food products across the EU. We are coordinating closely with the member states to create “green Lanes”. These green lanes, based on designated key border crossing-points, will have border crossing checks that will not exceed 15 minutes. The passage is now granted for all goods, including agri-food products.

On top of this, if serious market disruptions occur, market measures could be used. This includes for example public intervention, private storage aid and exceptional market measures under the CAP.

Finally, following various requests from the member states further discussed during the Council meeting on Wednesday, other measures could be taken to ease administrative procedures in these times of crisis, both for farmers and for national or regional authorities. This includes for example derogations to certain on-the-spot control requirements, or audit procedure requirements. More details on this will follow soon.

MEPs demand CAP contingency plan as part of EU response to COVID-19

Lawmakers in the European Parliament have called on the European Commission to prepare a strategy anticipating the difficulties that might arise in implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Are there sectors more affected than others? Are you planning to some tailored support measures for a specific sector of the agri-food chain?

This current crisis affects every single sector, but farmers, food producers, manufacturers and retailers help ensure food security, and the Commission, together with the Member States, guarantee that the food supply chain continues to function effectively – first and foremost by guaranteeing the continuous flow of goods throughout the single market.

In general there is a movement from goods traditionally consumed out of home (restaurants, cafés…) to those used by consumers to cook at home. This affects most commodity goods and certain higher value-added segments.

On the fresh fruit & vegetables market, demand is expected to remain strong during the containment period, but the sector could face a challenge regarding the availability of seasonal staff in the coming picking season and regarding the availability of trucks and drivers.

On the dairy and meat market, there is more uncertainty about the extent of the consequences of the virus, which also depend on the workforce remaining available. Also, logistics can become an issue due to the lack of containers. Some products face rising demand from the retail sector as private households buy more than usual (e.g. drinking milk), but demand from food services and restaurants has collapsed and exports to third countries could decline.

For the wine sector, the coronavirus crisis adds a fall of demand to the challenges posed by the additional taxes imposed by the US.

However, the sector that is most affected is the flower market, which faces a collapse of demand.

Nevertheless, whatever measures we are applying now, we have to be very prudent as we are only at the start of this crisis.

Farmers warn of far-reaching COVID-19 effects on EU agriculture

A new report from farmers’ association COPA-COGECA outlines the multi-faceted ways in which COVID-19 is leaving its mark on the agricultural sector, from flower growers to meat producers.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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