Agriculture Commissioner: It is ‘prudent’ to prioritise upping EU food production

It is “simply prudent that we support our farmers to produce more food while they can,” the EU agriculture Commissioner said. [EPA-EFE]

This article is part of our special report How the Ukraine war is reshaping the CAP.

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Increasing food production in Europe is a priority in light of the Ukraine war, according to the EU’s agri-boss, who detailed how the European Commission encourages member states to do this through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

In his address to the European Parliament’s agriculture committee on Monday (4 April), Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski stood firm in his convictions that the bloc must increase food production, despite reassuring MEPs that the EU does not currently face a food security threat.

“We must act with these measures in the short term to address food security and affordability concerns now,” he said, pointing out that “we cannot predict how things will develop over the course of the year or in the near future”, he said.

It is “simply prudent that we support our farmers to produce more food while they can.”

Commission reaffirms commitment to EU's green goals in first food security meeting

The European Commission stood firm in its resolve to forge ahead with the EU’s sustainable food goals in the first expert meeting on food security this week, despite growing fears around food shortages caused by the war in Ukraine.

To help member states achieve this, the Commissioner offered further details on the actions envisaged by the EU executive.

Notably, Wojciechowski called on member states to take their “new geopolitical contexts into account” in their Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plans (see below for more details).

Last week, the Commission sent observation letters to the 19 member states who submitted their plans on time. The letter focuses on the strengths and weaknesses in each plan, suggesting areas for improvement.

These letters also encouraged EU countries to revise their plans to reinforce elements to strengthen the sector’s resilience and self-reliance in light of the war.

“Those plans were peacetime plans. And now it’s wartime,” he explained.

As such, these plans should be adapted to have a stronger focus on the resilience of farming sectors, he explained.

“We now expect that the 19 member states to address the observations and submit a revised version of the plans,” the Commissioner explained.

However, precisely what this means in practice is open to interpretation by member states, although the Commission has previously put forward several suggestions, including increasing biogas production.

CAP plan drafts fall short of environmental ambitions, says Commissioner

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) national strategic plans currently leave a lot to be desired, according to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who said the majority fall short of the EU executive’s environmental ambitions.

Another way the Commission hopes to increase production is by easing rules on several environmental measures. This includes a derogation permitting farmers to plant crops in ecological focus areas.

According to the Commissioner, this is an “exceptional and temporary derogation to allow the production of any crops on fallow land this year, while maintaining the full level of greening payments for farmers,” the Commissioner said.

In the latest Commission’s trade outlook, these new measures should increase usable land for growing grains, positively affecting the EU’s output for arable crops.

Meanwhile, some member states are using other flexibilities to alter existing import requirements related to pesticides for animal feed.

However, some MEPs expressed concerns over the plans, which have also caused disquiet among environmental campaign groups.

“We’re looking at four million hectares being set aside next year. Is that really something we should do?” centre-right MEP Christine Schneider queried while leftist Luke Flanagan called for an impact assessment on the effects of such a derogation.

Addressing the concerns, the Commissioner conceded that, looking to the future, this “might not be a one-off solution only for this year” but stressed that the measure is “obviously necessary”.

“I’m going to push and insist that it’s extremely important in terms of security,” he maintained, adding the EU executive will be “keeping an eye on the situation [and] there might be some new needs”.

Meanwhile, the Commission has triggered its crisis reserve fund for the first time, adopting exceptional support measures of €500 million to directly assist farmers most affected by the higher input costs and the closure of export markets.

Member states can exceptionally opt to complement this EU support by up to 200% with national funds.

The Commission will also allow member states to pay increased CAP direct payments in advance to address the cash flow difficulties that farmers face.

To get the ball rolling, the EU’s farming boss urged agriculture MEPs to encourage their colleagues in the budget committee to agree on the activation as soon as possible so that member states can start getting the exceptional support measures.

He added that the EU executive “will have to consider new approaches” if the crisis continues.

Parliament defies Council on decoupling crisis reserve from CAP budget

The crisis reserve fund remains an outstanding issue in the otherwise advancing talks on the reform of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), as positions of the European Parliament and EU farm ministers on the issue are still far apart.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/ Alice Taylor]

National strategic plans (NSPs) are one of the main novelties of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will run from 2023-2027.

Through these plans, EU countries detail how they will meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP while responding to the needs of farmers and rural communities.

In other words: While the European Commission will be setting out the general direction of the future CAP, the “how” will be up to national administrations this time.

Member states had until the end of 2021 to submit their national plans to the Commission for its approval, a process which is currently underway.

For more information on the CAP reform, see EURACTIV's coverage.

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