German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner laid out the German EU presidency’s agrifood priorities on Wednesday (15 July), and highlighted the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) negotiations as a key focus, alongside animal welfare labelling, an EU-wide nutritional label and digitalisation to make rural areas “fit for the future”.
Speaking before the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Klöckner acknowledged that difficult times required important decisions for the future of the EU. She said she was “looking forward to the task” of being an honest broker and playing her part in aligning the interests of the 27 member states.
She also highlighted the lessons learned from the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising the need to make the EU food system more resilient in the face of unexpected turmoil.
She said the aim is “to create proper conditions to ensure that our agriculture is stable and resistant to crises” and stressed the importance of the free movement of food and workers for a functional food supply.
Coupling direct payments
Klöckner put forward the idea of a stronger coupling of direct payments in the CAP with environmental measures, in an attempt to “dovetail” the post-2020 CAP with the EU’s new food policy, the Farm to Fork (F2F).
According to Klöckner, the CAP reform should be built around five main focuses: maintaining the same income for direct payments; a much more ambitious and climate-friendly approach; a unified implementation of the CAP across the EU; more simplification; and the preservation of the single market as the basis for any agriculture and food policy.
The CAP reform, she added, must not keep pressing the farmers and putting them into an impossible situation. “Because otherwise, that’s really shooting ourselves in the foot,” she said.
However, she admitted that her hands were tied on the timing of the CAP reform, as progress depends very closely on the negotiations on the EU’s next seven-year budget, the multi-annual financial framework (MFF).
“It’s about money. Once we have the budget, we’ll know better how and where we can invest,” she said.
EU-wide animal welfare label
A key theme of the German Presidency is set to be animal welfare, which is also a major focus of the F2F strategy and something that EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowksi has been regularly outspoken about.
Klöckner emphasised that animal welfare is “becoming more and more important for consumers” and said that she would push for a standardised animal welfare label across Europe.
In this way, she aspires to “uphold higher animal welfare standards,” placing a particular emphasis on ensuring that the sustainable option is “visible in supermarket aisles” and offering peace of mind for consumers that “spending more money means higher welfare standards”.
She highlighted that there were a number of other questions concerning animal welfare, including transport of live animals, saying that she will be closely following the work of the new Inquiry Committee on live transport, which was recently approved by the European Council.
Harmonised nutritional label
“Food policy issues are going to be high on the agenda in the next few months, for example, having extended nutritional labelling to better guide consumers in their purchasing or further measures to reduce food waste,” Klöckner said.
Asked about the form this labelling would take, an ongoing bone of contention amongst member states, she said that “harmonisation of law labelling is, of course, the best possible scenario if we can get that” but warned that waiting until there is agreement across the board may not necessarily be the best option.
She added that the EU may need to review the available labelling scheme options or do a “general evaluation of certain products, covering different criteria”.
Digitalisation ‘key’ for sustainablity
Digitalisation will also be high on the German agenda, with Klöckner saying that it holds the potential to “solve conflicts and find solutions” in agriculture, and adding that the digital transformation of the agricultural value chain is “the future”.
“Digitalisation is key if we want to have a sustainable, economically profitable, or economically sustainable agriculture,” she said.
(N.F. and G.F.)