Agrifood brief: Don’t forget agriculture, Valdis

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

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2 - Organics regulation, releasing recovery funds, new trade Commissioner

 

After the shock of Phil Hogan’s sudden resignation as the EU trade chief, the lack of agri-food expertise of his successor has already raised plenty of eyebrows among stakeholders.

Let’s face it: Hogan has left a void in the Commission, and not only because he’s a big guy.

Everyone liked the idea of letting an experienced Irish public servant handle the post-Brexit world, having proved his negotiating skills by bringing home the historical deal with the Mercosur countries.

Put simply, he was the right man at the right time. Unfortunately, Hogan’s premature departure has now upset the EU executive’s plans.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen asked Valdis Dombrovskis, the EU executive’s vice-president for economic policy, to take on the key trade role, while the new pick of the Irish government, Mairead McGuinness, has been proposed a de-powered portfolio for financial services.

The choice was a no-brainer. The Irish would not have received trade again after having triggered the golfgate crisis, while the biggest political group, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), were not prepared to give up on such a large portfolio.

That being the case, there was little other choice but for the Latvian Commissioner to take up the reins of a post which has a crucial say in the EU agri-food sector as well.

But without the security blanket of a trade Commissioner clued up on the complexities of the agri-food world, and with multiple high-stake agri-trade talks looming large, this appointment leaves a question mark or two.

Trade policy is about many things, of course, but it is a lot to do with agri-food too.

The model free trade agreement with Canada risks falling apart because of Cyprus’ white gold, Halloumi cheese.

Also, Brexit negotiations are threatened by the UK government’s attempt to reopen talks on regionally protected speciality foods and drinks, such as Roquefort cheese and champagne.

Dombrovskis undoubtedly has a great track record, having served as prime minister of his country too.

However, as a former EU agriculture chief, Hogan was felt by the agri-food sector to be one of their own, having earned their trust.

In the midst of ‘golfgate’, the secretary-general of the EU farmers association Copa-Cogeca shielded Hogan like a real friend would do.

Hogan also came up with the idea of compensating EU farmers with a €1 billion fund to safeguard potential disruption for European producers coming from the Mercosur agreement.

Although expected to engage in lengthy negotiations, the new trade chief also has to be in touch with this unknown realm, and start understanding concerns of agrifood producers.

But most of all, Dobrovskis has inherited the Brexit conundrum. Putting an Irishman in charge previously was like telling Brits, “work it out between yourselves.”

Once again, the agri-food sector is set to be hit particularly hard by a no-deal scenario, enough to make any politician tremble.

Exemplifying this, the Irish Farmers Association (IFA) was pushing for a candidate who would give Ireland the maximum possible chance of retaining the trade portfolio.

IFA President Tim Cullinan said Hogan had made a huge contribution during his five years as EU Commissioner for agriculture, his recent tenure as trade Commissioner and his 40 years of public service.

One of the toughest task for Dombrovskis now is to earn the trust of stakeholders like IFA and make sure they don’t have abandonment issues.

(G.F.)

Agrifood news this week

Commission launches public consultation on EU organic plan, backs regulation postponement
The European Commission launched a public consultation on its future action plan on organic farming on Friday (4 September), and also proposed to postpone by one year the entry into force of the new organic regulation.  Natasha Foote has the story.

First detection test developed for gene-edited crop, campaign groups claim 
The first open-source detection method for a gene-edited crop has been developed, according to a scientific paper. Environmental NGOs and campaign groups said this could hypothetically allow the EU to carry out checks to prevent unauthorised imports, but the EU seed sector quickly refuted this claim. Learn more here.

Commission urges swift deployment of COVID-funds for farmers
The €7.5 billion top-up coming to the EU’s farming subsidies programme from the bloc’s post-COVID stimulus plan should be made available as quickly as possible, Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said on Monday (7 September). Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

France mulls reintroduction of neonicotinoids, faces backlash from NGOs and Germany
Debates are currently well underway in France over the re-authorisation of neonicotinoids, a controversial class of pesticides, to save its sugar beet industry. The issue is causing quite a stir both at home and across the Rhine. EURACTIV France reports. On the same theme, also feel free to check out EURACTIV France’s interview with German MEP Martin Häusling where he explains why he is challenging the decision.

News from the bubble

CAP news: As we are approaching the final plenary vote on the EU’s farming subsidies programme, Parliament’s biggest political group, centre-right Europe’s People Party (EPP), adopted its position on the dossier this week. According to EPP’s coordinator for agriculture, the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, the EPP will push on dedicating 30% of the funds to climate and environment.

Meanwhile, the German presidency has proposed a two-year pilot phase to other member states for the eco-schemes, the system designed to deliver the CAP’s climate goals. However, environmental campaigners went berserk at the request to set a specific minimum share of productive and non-productive areas.

Priorities for major agrifood companies by 2030: In a roundtable with Europe’s crop protection industry (ECPA) this week, major agrifood players outlined their commitments to support Europe’s new Green Deal, which included an investment of over €14 billion in new technologies and more sustainable products by 2030.

Key focus areas include; digital and green recovery, including a €10 billion investment earmarked into innovation in precision and digital technologies; a €4 billion investment in biopesticides;  the circular economy of plastic; and a commitment to training 1 million farmers and advisors to help minimise exposure and reduce the risks of pesticide use.

Court ruling: The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has dismissed Slovenia’s legal action against the Commission, which asked for the annulment of the delegated regulation which ruled that the wine designation ‘Teran’ may be used on the labels of Croatian wines.

ECJ’s advocate general also advised that the Flemish Law that prohibits the slaughter of animals without stunning, such as the halal and kosher method, is not permitted under EU law. However, the advocate general’s opinion is advisory.

Overfishing: Over 300 scientists launched a call for action urging EU institutions to set fishing limits within scientific advice.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

GERMANY
The German Green party has put forth a plan for more climate-friendly agriculture. Key points for the plan include linking agriculture funding to public welfare conditions, sequestering carbon in the soil, limiting pesticide use, and reducing the amount of livestock in the country.  “Instead of a permanent crisis mode, we need a climate plan for agriculture,” said Dr. Anton Hofreiter, co-chair of the Green parliamentary group in the Bundestag. (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE
Last Thursday (3 September), French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced the recovery plan, which included €1,2 billion for agriculture.  This is designed to help the agriculture sector to restore some competitiveness and prepare it for the climatic challenges. There is also a strong focus on food sovereignty, with the main objective to “sharply reduce the import of proteins for livestock farming”. Through this plan, oilseed crops producers hope to reduce France’s dependence on imports from 45% to 35%, compared with nearly 65% to 70% in Europe, over the coming years. (Anne Damiani EURACTIV.fr)

UK
With the Trade Bill being debated in the House of Lords this week, the National Farmers Union (NFU) is calling for Peers to amend the Bill so that Parliament will be given the final say on whether to ratify new trade agreements. Currently, there is no requirement for Parliament to debate trade deals before they are signed into law and safeguards to allow MPs to reject such trade deals are limited. “There is no doubt that the countries we are currently negotiating with are demanding access to our prized market for their agriculture products and, right now, a trade agreement could be signed with little parliamentary scrutiny. This could result in a massive increase in the amount of food being imported that is produced in ways that would be illegal in this country,” NFU President Minette Batters said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
The head of the Irish Farmers Association has called on the new Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue to begin an immediate overhaul of the Tuberculosis (TB) Forum, which he says has failed farmers. “The TB herd risk letters, persecuting farmers who have already suffered losses due to TB, must be withdrawn,” he said. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

POLAND
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party, presented a draft law improving animal protections in Poland on Tuesday (8 September) and has called for all political groups and their supporters for their backing. The ban would impose a limit on animal breeding and ritual slaughter, increase the competences of NGOs, and increase the frequency of farm inspections. “Our formation and I personally thought for a long time that a new legal order should be introduced in Poland when it comes to animal protection,” said the PiS leader. (Mateusz Kucharczyk| EURACTIV.pl)

BELGIUM 
Belgium has launched a new website about how it’s managing invasive species, in line with the EU’s Invasive Alien Species regulation, detailing how it is being implemented in the country.The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) has launched a campaign to raise awareness and help halt the spread of African swine fever in south-east Europe this week. The campaign is aimed at countries identified as a “cause for concern”, which includes Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Greece, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia.

On our radar

Public consultation launch: The European Commission launched a public consultation this week on its new initiative for a long-term vision for rural areas. This consultation aims to collect views on current opportunities and challenges in rural areas, aspirations for rural areas and the actions needed to achieve these aspirations in the future.

Any interested European, including consumers, the agri-food sector, farmers and civil society organisations, can contribute to the online public consultation until 30 November 2020.

 

 

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