Agrifood Brief: A 5-column clover for luck with CAP

Your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s AgriFood Brief, your weekly update on all things Agriculture & Food in the EU. You can subscribe here if you haven’t done so yet.

 

This week: we speak with Green MEP Eleonora Evi about the differences between the EU Parliament and the Commission when it comes to genetically modified crops, EURACTIV’s agrifood team explores the timeline for the common agricultural policy (CAP) and talk about a controversial new ‘protectionist’ amendment which was passed by the Czech Parliament this week. 

18 - CAP developments, protectionism, GM crops

 

The European Commission is doing its utmost to include as much of the EU’s Green Deal in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as it can, becoming a protagonist of the talks for its reform.

But are they going a bit overboard?

The interinstitutional negotiations – known as ‘trilogue’ in the EU jargon – between the Council and the European Parliament on the CAP reform have kicked into high gear as both EU lawmakers aim to reach a final agreement by spring.

It is well-known that every negotiation on such ambitious EU programmes has always consisted of a lengthy war of nerves. In spite of existing backlogs, this CAP reform is no exception.

But a new complication has now arisen in the form of an authentic EU version of a four-leaf clover. Or, to put it another way, a five-column clover.

Anyone who has had a direct experience of how talks between the Parliament and Council go on in practice is aware of the 4-column document.

This legendary document is the real playbook of negotiators and it is normally kept away from the prying eyes of the general public. At least until some media outlet leaks it.

The positions of every actor involved in the talks are there in that huge text: it is their way to play with an open hand.

In the first column of the document, there is the original Commission’s proposal, while in the second and the third columns both the Parliament’s position and the general approach agreed by the ministers in the Council can be found.

But the fourth column is the key one, as it contains the compromises proposed by the rotating EU presidency in a bid to find a common ground.

The ‘legendary’ four-column negotiating document

 

In a press conference on Thursday (21 January), two of Parliament’s negotiators told reporters that the 4-column documents for the CAP dossiers will now feature a fifth column.

For EU geeks, this 5-column document sounds like the EU version of a unicorn.

Why is this fifth column though? Well, it contains some suggestions proposed by the Commission in order to match the farming subsidies programme and the EU’s Green Deal objectives, which were unveiled after issuing the CAP proposal.

This is, in many respects, fair enough, as the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy (F2F), has completely reshaped the environmental and climate ambition when it comes to the European agricultural policy.

However, it also poses some problems in terms of the Commission’s scope for action in the legislative process.

As the holder of the competence to initiate legislation, the EU executive plays the role of a facilitator during trilogues, but the final decision on the text rests with the two co-legislators.

So, theoretically, co-legislators – that is, Parliament and Council – negotiate beneath the gaze of the Commission, who should act as an honest broker.

“But in practice, the Commission has a lot of lawyers and experts, and they know better the strategic plans and the articles that are linked to the proposals. So, we really depend on the cooperation with the Commission,” said Ulrike Müller, one of the MEP who is negotiating on behalf of the Parliament.

The meddling of the Commission is generally welcomed as they can provide negotiators with the relevant expertise on the matter.

However, giving the Commission a new column in which they are able to strongly suggest an update – which could be seen as ‘amending’ – to its own proposal places them closer to the level of the two lawmakers.

For German MEP Peter Jahr, another Parliamentary negotiator in the CAP talks, this interference is unusual but also honest, as the lawmakers are facing new conditions and new requirements emerged from the F2F.

“What makes me angry is that they don’t think we are able to deal with it. We’re a part of the society too,” he said.

This is a direct result of the particular situation caused by the timing of the CAP proposal, which is leading the Commission to weigh in on the matter.

The 5-column clover is the most recent in a long series of the Commission’s meddling, starting with the threat to withdraw the legislative proposal, which irked both ministers and MEPs, and continuing with the suggestions for environmentally friendly practices that could receive EU funding in the CAP.

“But as long as we reach an agreement, it’s okay. So yes, it’s unusual. It’s very honest. And it’s also a bit annoying. Maybe that’s all I can say,” Jahr concluded.

Which means that if this 5-column clover could bring them luck with CAP, negotiators are going to pick it.

(G.F)

Agrifood news this week

Czech parliament backs food law obliging stores to prioritise local products
The Czech Republic is on its way to introduce a protectionist food law despite warnings that this could be in violation of the EU’s free movement of goods. Read more here. 

MEPs wink at Biden, call for ending US tariff spat
On the very day of Joe Biden’s inauguration in Washington on 20 January, European lawmakers urged the European Commission to settle for good the trade dispute with the US that has soured transatlantic relations in recent years. Read more. 
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. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.EU Court leaves Cyprus on the grill as halloumi trademark rift heats up
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has dismissed the claim of a Cypriot producers’ organisation who challenged the trademark validation of Bulgarian halloumi-sounding products arguing that they could deceive consumers.  Gerardo Fortuna has the story.Green Deal makes its mark on EU crop protection sector
The increased focus on sustainability in the agrifood sector has seen the leading EU crop protection association rebrand and expand its mandate to encompass a more holistic approach to plant protection. Learn more here.

Hospitality sector calls for support to unlock entrepreneurial spirit post-COVID
Despite the challenges the pandemic has presented to the EU hospitality sector, hopes remain high that it can bounce back and adapt to a new post-pandemic reality, but this requires support “commensurate to the hit it has taken”, according to the EU hospitality association. Natasha Foote has more. 

EU lawmakers raise concerns about UK ‘regression’ on pesticides
Lawmakers in the European Parliament have raised concerns about possible UK regression on pesticides and gene editing at a meeting on the new EU-UK trade agreement on Thursday (14 January). See here for more details.

News from the bubble

SUD consultation: The EU Commission launched the second public consultation on sustainable use of pesticides directive (SUD) was launched after the first consultation on the roadmap came to a close with 360 comments. The objective of the consultation is this time to get the views of all stakeholders on the implementation, application and enforcement problems encountered, as well as possible solutions.

Misuse of agricultural funds: The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) closed three administrative investigations in 2020 into possible misuse of EU funds for agriculture in Slovakia. Findings include irregularities in direct payments and systemic weaknesses in national verification procedures.

GIs consultation launch: There was the launch of the public consultation on the revision of the EU geographical indications scheme this week.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

GERMANY 

On Wednesday (20 January), the German government cabinet reached an agreement to ban the killing of day-old male chicks by 2022. The rules further restrict the sex determination in eggs and forbid the killing of chicken embryos after the sixth day incubation from 2024 onwards. Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner (CDU) welcomed the news, highlighting that Germany is the first country to implement such an initiative. “We want to be a pacesetter and role model for other countries as well,” she said.  However, the German poultry industry worries that this could put them at a disadvantage. President of the Central Association of the German Poultry Industry (ZDG), Friedrich-Otto Ripke said that while he agreed with the ban in principle, he was opposed to Germany going it alone. “If policymakers had a resounding interest in fully protecting male chicks, they should have taken decisive action at the EU level with the aim of creating a binding legal framework for the European Economic Area,” he said. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE
Julien Denormandie made a statement to the press group Réussir on Thursday (7 January) in which he stressed that NBTs (new breeding techniques) “are not GMOs”. “This technology makes it possible to bring out earlier a variety that could have appeared naturally at a given moment, and that’s very good. It is very different from a GMO, which is first of all a plant – and not a technique – obtained by taking a gene from one species and transferring it to another, which does not happen in nature,” he stressed. With this declaration, the French Minister of Agriculture opposes the view of of several European and French court decisions. In July 2018, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that new plant breeding techniques fall, in principle, under the GMO Directive. The Council of State confirmed this opinion in February 2020, with a decision to this effect. The agricultural union Confédération paysanne, a long-time opponent of GMOs, expressed its concern about these statements in a press release and demanded “a formal denial and a call to the law at the highest level of the State”. (Lucie Duboua-LorschEURACTIV.fr)

UK
Attempts to amend the trade bill to block the import of animals and agricultural products with lower standards than currently permitted in the UK failed this week, according to the Guardian. This is despite repeated assurances from the UK government that the import of products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef would not be permitted.  (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

ROMANIA
The federation of Romanian beekeepers requested the agriculture minister to revoke authorisation for temporary use of three neonicotinoid-based insecticides, which are banned in the EU. Beekeepers said the temporary use license is granted for the eighth year in a row in 2021, citing urgency and an exceptional situation, but that the ministry did not meet the conditions for the repeated derogations from EU law. The three substances (imidacloprid, clothianidin and thiamethoxam) are used to treat sunflower and sugar beet seeds, but are in the EU for all outdoor uses because of the dangers they pose to bee populations. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

ITALY 
A week after the resignation of Teresa Bellanova, Italy is still without an agriculture minister despite the many challenges ahead for the farming sector. Prime minister Giuseppe Conte is the acting agriculture minister, but has said he does not to want to hold the interim position for a long time. The government seems to be in no hurry though, as ruling parties are currently more interested in seeing how the political frictions evolve with the aim to offer the agriculture portfolio as a way to get a new group in the ruling coalition. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

Events

25 January – Parliament’s response to the Commission’s Green Deal-related Farm to Fork strategy will be debated by MEPs from the Agriculture and Environment committees. The draft agenda is available here.

25 January – EU agriculture and fisheries ministers will hold an informal video conference chaired by the Portuguese presidency. Ministers will discuss the post-2020 CAP reform, trade-related issues and fishing opportunities for stocks shared with the United Kingdom. See here for more details. 

25-26 January – ScoPAFF meeting will take place, where a number of renewals of authorisations will be considered, including for the controversial herbicide Benfluarlin. See here for the agenda.

25 January – 26 January – There is a conference improving sustainability and welfare in organic poultry and pig production. More details here.

27 January – There is a EURACTIV Virtual Conference to discuss what the optimal blueprint for the future of the food service industry might look like in Europe and what mix of policy tools can be most helpful to the sector. See here for more information. 

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