Agrifood Brief: Wanted – Closers to save the CAP

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

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1 - Agrifood Brief: Back to School

 

EU policymakers are getting ready for a Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) showdown, as lengthy negotiations on the reform of the EU’s main farm subsidies programme enter the final stages this autumn.

Since it was proposed in June 2018, the overhaul of the CAP, one of the biggest spender in the EU’s budget, has failed to make any great headway and talks have been completely stalled for over a year.

Before the EU elections in 2019, the three regulations that made up the post-2020 CAP ended up in the unfinished business section of the past legislative term.

More than a year later, however, the CAP dossier has still not been taken out of the deep freeze after leaders decided to wait for a final agreement on the EU’s next long-term budget.

Now that the budget deal has been clinched and we are moving into the last four months of the 2014-2020 programming period, the key actors are running out of excuses for further delay.

To start the final interinstitutional talks, both the European Parliament and the EU farming ministers still need to agree on their negotiating positions as soon as possible.

But some outstanding issues, like the CAP’s new green architecture, remain serious stumbling blocks.

In baseball, most of the teams have one highly-specialised pitcher – the closer – who throws the ball only in the last innings. His role is to hold the lead over his opponents, allowing his team to win the game.

If the closer succeeds, it is said that he has ‘saved the game’.

That’s because, if he doesn’t get the job done, the game is either lost or goes to extra innings where it’s all to play for regardless of by how many runs the team had led by during the game.

Likewise, the structure of the CAP as it was designed in 2018 cannot be considered safe.

The EU’s new food strategy has been unveiled in the meantime, and the pandemic has turned our lives upside down, with major implications on the food system.

Protestors have already started demanding that the current reform is ditched, stepping up pressure on EU policymakers.

But who to entrust with such a delicate assignment?

Among the EU-27 ministers, the natural CAP closer can only be the German agriculture minister Julia Klöckner, the current president of the EU Agrifish Council.

Her presidency will ultimately be judged by her capacity to bring her counterparts together and find an agreement on the negotiating mandate.

In the other EU institution, the perfect closer might also be another German, Norbert Lins, chair of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, who can speed up the procedure by giving the CAP file the highest priority.

By a curious twist of fate, two Germans are called upon to save the CAP in the last inning during the German presidency. Failure could open up scenarios that would have been inconceivable a few months ago.

(G.F.)

What did we miss in August?

Here’s a quick recap of August most interesting EU agrifood news, in case you spent – as we hope – your summer basking in the sun under the shelter of a parasol

BRUSSELS

Trade Commissioner and former EU agriculture boss Phil Hogan resigned after the Irish government accused him of breaching the national COVID-19 guidelines. This is a blow to the Commission, as the father of the 2018 Common Agricultural Policy reform was supposed to be von der Leyen’s trump card in the post-Brexit trade negotiations.

Daniel Rosario, Commission’s spokesperson for Agriculture and Trade, also left his post to join the Lisbon’s EU liaison office as head of communications. He will be replaced by Miriam García Ferrer.

TRADE

As of 1 August, the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement (FTA) entered into force, scrapping duties on 99% of all goods traded between the two sides. Under the new agreement, agri-food products like beef or olive oil will not be subject to any tariffs in three years, while dairy, fruit, and vegetables in maximum five years.

For one agreement that starts bearing fruit, there is another one is at risk of rotting. On 7 August, the Cypriot national parliament voted down the Canada-EU FTA by 37 votes to 18. The reason? The treaty would not adequately protect the Cypriot white gold, halloumi cheese.

The EU has unilaterally suspended all imports of oranges, mandarins, lemons, and grapefruit from Argentina until 31 April 2021. According to the Commission, this is a precautionary measure taken to avoid European growers being attacked by the citrus black spot recently detected in Argentina.

ANIMAL HEALTH

Only Finland and Sweden have banned routine tail docking in pigs, despite the fact that all member states are required to implement a 2008 directive establishing minimum standards for pig welfare, the Commission said replying a parliamentary question.

BREXIT

The attempt of the UK government to reopen talks on regionally protected specialty foods and drinks such as Roquefort cheese and champagne has left EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier “a little bit flabbergastered, The Guardian reported.

Barnier also pointed out that, since the start of the negotiations, the UK has not shown any willingness to seek compromises on fisheries.

Agrifood news this week

What’s on the policy menu for autumn?
Here, EURACTIV’s agri team brings you up to speed on what’s in store for Autumn, from the long-delayed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the transitional CAP arrangements, to the postponement of the organics regulation and the priorities for the German presidency.

EU farm ministers mull origin, animal welfare labelling on foodstuff
Food labelling stole the spotlight from the reform of the bloc’s main farming subsidies program during an informal meeting of ministers that kicked off the German EU presidency’s agenda on agriculture. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

EU farmers side with Italy against colour-coded nutrition labelling
The EU farmers lobby COPA-COGECA has joined the ranks of those fighting against French Nutri-Score system in the race for picking a mandatory EU-wide nutrition food label. Read more here.

Seed sector organisations call for review of regulation on plant variety rights
Key players in the European seed sector have joined forces to urge the EU Commission to improve the bloc’s intellectual property laws and mechanisms and enable an effective plant breeding sector. But there are fears that this may negatively impact small and medium-sized farmers. Natasha Foote has more.

EU agency reports cases of Salmonella after contaminated imported nuts
An outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium linked to Brazil nuts imported from Bolivia has been reported in several EU countries, prompting the European Commission to trigger its rapid alert system. Natasha Foote has the story.

Protestors converge on EU agri meeting to demand radical policy reform
Protestors rallied in the German city of Koblenz on Sunday (30 August) and participants told EURACTIV they were demanding sweeping farming reforms as EU agricultural ministers began two days of informal talks hosted by Germany’s Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner. See here for details.

Don’t miss:

Rural vs. city: how do consumer preferences differ when it comes to food? 
In this video report, EURACTIV takes a closer look at how consumer preferences differ in rural areas compared to urban, asking consumers what they value most when choosing their food, how their eating and shopping habits have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and how important factors such as organic are when choosing what they eat.

Quote of the Week

“This is the lesson from the crisis: our agriculture, our farmers should be less dependent from the outside”

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski during an informal agriculture meeting of ministers this week

Agrifood news from the Capitals

GERMANY
The head of both the German Farmers’ Association and farmers association Copa, Joachim Rukwied, tried to distance himself from the more “radical” farmers demonstrating outside the EU Agriculture Ministers Conference in Koblenz. While many of the protestors want European agriculture to move towards more biodiversity and climate neutrality, some carried flags with the plough and sword symbol of the Rural People’s Movement (Landvolkbewegung) of 1929, which is associated with National Socialism. “We distance ourselves from any radicalisation and dissociate ourselves from plough and sword representations and their public activities,” Rukwied said in a press conference on Tuesday (1 September) (Sarah Lawton | EURACTIV.de)

FRANCE
The ongoing drought conditions in France have seen the wine harvest brought forward this year, already starting now instead of in mid-September. Wine-growers explain that this phenomenon is due to a dry year, in spring as much as in summer. Between the pandemic and the drought, they estimate they lost 20% turnover. Harvests are also more difficult for the seasonal workers because of sanitary rules, such as social distancing in the vineyards and the obligation to wear a msk despite the temperatures. Authorities want to avoid new clusters.  (Anne Damiani EURACTIV.fr)

ITALY
Straberry, a model agricultural startup nearby Milan, is being currently under investigation for exploitation of migrant workers. The farm was awarded in the past for its environmentally sustainable standards but, according to Italy’s finance police, migrants working there have been treated as slaves. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

UK
MPs and other parliamentarians are being urged by the public and the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) to back British farmers ahead of a crucial four months of Brexit negotiations. This autumn will be critical for the future of the UK agricultural sector as the Agriculture Bill returns from the Lords to the Commons for further scrutiny before it is eventually passed into law and the threat of a no-deal Brexit looms large. Without a deal, trade between the UK and EU will be left on World Trade Organisation terms and tariffs – a scenario NFU president Minette Batters has repeatedly warned would be catastrophic for Britain’s growers and livestock producers. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND
Ireland has appointed a new agriculture minister to replace Dara Calleary, who resigned after attending the Oireachtas Golf Society dinner in Galway last month, which is being investigated for breaches of coronavirus regulations. Charlie McConalogue will now take up the baton, and has no time to waste settling into his new role, with Taoiseach Micheal Martin warning that he is facing “a number of challenges”, including contending with the coronavirus pandemic, securing the long-term future of rural Ireland and Brexit. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

On our radar

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.

According to the August issue of the JRC MARS Bulletin – Crop monitoring in Europe, the yield forecasts for almost all summer crops in the EU were revised downwards from the July forecast due to dry conditions, but remain above or near the 5-year average. Read more here.

Events 

7 September – The next AGRI Committee meeting will take place in Brussels via videoconference from 16.45-18.00.

9 September – There is a webinar entitled “Smaller, greener… healthier?” focusing on the future of the livestock sector in Europe and what sustainability measures will entail for animal health and welfare in livestock production.

 

 

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