Agrifood Brief: Welcome to the Jumbo

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32 - Carbon considerations, Spain shirks scrutiny, live exports

 

This week: EURACTIV spoke with Riccardo Valentini, Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of Tuscia, about carbon neutrality and carbon markets for farming, and we hear from Green MEP Thomas Waitz about the news that the Spanish government has rejected a request from the European Parliament to speak about the two livestock ships that departed from Spanish ports in mid-December and ended up stuck in limbo at sea for months. 

 

Will the tactic of pushing all the remaining controversial issues in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) dossier to one final battle royal pay off for the Portuguese presidency?

European lawmakers might be still far from an agreement on the reform of the EU’s farming subsidies scheme, but they are not certainly running out of names to describe the ultimate showdown that is supposed to offer some closure on this process.

In the beginning, there was the super trilogue. Now it’s the turn of the 2-day super trilogue, which now turned into a ‘jumbo trilogue’, in the words of the EU’s agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.

The name might change, but the essence remains the same: it will be all or nothing at the jumbo trilogue.

This past week saw European Parliament negotiators and the rotating EU presidency, currently held by Portugal, meeting yet again in an attempt to settle their remaining differences after 7 months of talks.

And once again, progress was slow, reaching only a handful of compromises on minor aspects.

Instead, as widely expected, the crunch time for the CAP reform is set to play out on 25-26 May.

The Parliament’s side has criticised the Portuguese presidency for playing too defensively, showing keeping their cards close to their chest during the talks in the hope to hold out for a last-minute deal.

Some have viewed this move as a tactic from the EU Council to tie Parliament’s hands and force a CAP reform on member states’ terms.

This is nothing new – seeking a last-minute deal is an old habit in EU negotiations and, like every old habit, it dies hard.

It’s a tactic that has been played at every level, from the late-night negotiations on fisheries to bail-out decisions at the gathering of EU finance ministers.

EU leaders did nothing to dissuade the use of the tactic after agreeing on the huge stimulus for the continent’s recovery from the pandemic after 92 hours of intense negotiations.

The law of the ‘jumbo’ could be, then: when the going get tough, set a deadline and lock up negotiators in a room.

In a previous life, I experienced some trilogue negotiations in the flesh. From what I’ve seen, even seemingly insurmountable obstacles appear easy to sidestep at the crack of dawn.

It’s a kind of magic: at daybreak, negotiators who were quarrelling hours before suddenly become docile, seeking each other out for an after-trilogue picture for a fond keepsake of the night they passed together before parting ways.

So, should we expect a final deal at the end of the jumbo trilogue too? Well, not so fast.

Positions seem really apart, with several outstanding issues on the table.

The social conditionality, for instance, is one of the Parliament’s red lines in these talks and the Council has been vague so far on the possibility to accept this proposal.

An agreement is also needed on the ring-fencing of eco-schemes, namely the percentage of direct payments budget that will be earmarked for environmental-friendly agricultural practices.

The Portuguese presidency recently filed a final proposal on this matter, but MEPs are yet to be convinced.

And not forgetting two other tricky points, such as the Parliament’s amendment 171 on alternatives to dairy products and the good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAEC) numbers 9 and 10, on the maintenance of non-productive features and permanent grassland.

Besides this, there is a new element that could put the reaching of a deal at risk.

Indeed, in parallel with the trilogue, there will be an official gathering of EU-27 agriculture ministers which, on one hand, confirms that the Portuguese want to seal a deal but, on the other, it may complicate things, turning the jumbo a real jungle.

As the old saying goes, two’s company, three’s a crowd.

Three negotiators – and their shadow rapporteurs – for the European Parliament, plus the Commission, plus the Portuguese presidency already seemed pretty crowded.

The fact that 26 other member states representatives can indirectly join the final battle could help raise the bar for a final deal.

If the jumbo doesn’t work out, there is still the possibility for extra meetings. But then it would be time to welcome the next EU presidency, the Slovenian one, to the jungle of trying to find a compromise on the CAP file.

(G.F.)

Stories of the Week

Spain declines EU Parliament’s invitation to clear livestock ship affair
The Spanish government has rejected a request to speak before the European Parliament’s inquiry committee (ANIT) about issues related to live transport of animals, according to documents seen by EURACTIV. Gerardo Fortuna has the story.

Not all gene-edited crops should be treated equal, warn MEPs
There is a need to ensure a targeted approach to gene editing because not all genomic techniques confer the sustainability benefits promised in the European Commission’s new study, EU lawmakers have warned. Natasha Foote has more.

A legal framework for soil protection is not in Commission’s pipeline
The European Commission on Wednesday (12 May) announced a set of measures to tackle soil pollution in the pipeline but without envisaging a dedicated and legally binding framework. Gerardo Fortuna reports.

EU at ‘tipping point’ in reversing current nutritional trends, report highlightsThe EU is currently at a ‘tipping point’ when it comes to nutritional challenges, according to a new report, which highlights the urgent need for an integrated approach to ensure the balance tips in the right direction. Learn more.

‘Conservationist’ farmers confirm support for glyphosate renewalProponents of glyphosate renewal count on farmers putting in place agronomic practices following Conservative Agriculture (CA) principles in their bid to get the EU green light for the controversial weed killer. Read more.

French Senate to finally start discussing animal welfare-friendly farmingThe economic affairs committee in the French Senate is due to consider a report on the proposed law for ethical, socially just and animal welfare-friendly farming on Wednesday (12 May) following recent criticism over its alleged inaction on animal welfare. EURACTIV France reports.

News from the bubble

CAP corner: Agriculture Committees of the Visegrad group’s Parliaments met online with EU Agriculture Minister Janusz Wojciechowski for a discussion on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform this week.

State aid: The European Commission has approved, under EU State aid rules, a €500 million Greek support scheme to support food service companies affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

PDO: The European  Commission has approved the application for the registration of “Ennstaler Steirerkas” from Austria in  the Register of Protected Designation of origin (PDO). ‘Ennstaler Steirerkas’ is a sour milk cheese made from raw or pasteurised skimmed cow’s milk.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

ROMANIA
Romania’s animal health authority has ordered an end to the sale of live birds for 30 days after the discovery of an avian flu outbreak at a poultry farm. However, the move could put the entire poultry sector at risk, according to a former agriculture minister, Petre Daea. This is because the ban also applies to the sale of one-day birds in farms specialised in this activity,  calling for technical clarifications of the ban. (Bogdan Neagu | EURACTIV.ro)

GERMANY 
German agricultural minister Julia Klöckner has called for the EU approval of titanium dioxide to be withdrawn, after the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a statement saying the substance could no longer be considered safe as a food additive. The chemical is often used as a colouring agent. “It cannot be ruled out that this food additive causes genetic damage,” Klöckner explained, and announced that she had already asked the European Commission to take action on the issue. However, the Green party’s food policy spokesperson, Renate Künast, criticised Klöckner for acting too late. “Instead of waiting for a decision by the EFSA, Klöckner should have taken action herself,” she said, explaining that, in France, the chemical’s use as a food additive had already been banned in 2020. For background on the issue, see here. (Julia Dahm| EURACTIV.de)

IRELAND
Irish Farmer’s Association (IFA) President Tim Cullinan has called on the minister for agriculture Charlie McConalogue and the Government to act decisively to protect farmers and rural Ireland in advance of upcoming European negotiations on CAP. In a statement on the IFA website, he warned that the EU is “going down a dangerous path by” moving away from the principle that the CAP ensures food security. “Greater ambition on climate action will not be achieved if the viability of primary producers is taken for granted. The value of farm payments has been continuously eroded by inflation and the various reforms over the years.  Many farmers are now at a tipping point,” he said. (Natasha Foote| EURACTIV.com)

ITALY
The farming community has rallied round a young farmer, Mattia Landra, after his 71 bee hives – each one with roughly 80,000 bees inside – were shattered and destroyed this week, allegedly as retaliation. “It’s a disaster from both an economic and emotional point of view,” he told the local newspaper La voce di Alba. “I have been harmed, but the environment has been harmed. My heart really hurts,’ he concluded. A Go-Fund-Me page was subsequently set up to support the young farmer, which saw over €60,000 raised in less than two days. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

FRANCE
The ministry of Agriculture and Food has announced several disbursements in the framework of the French recovery plan France Relance this week, including €40 million earmarked for supporting the agroecological transition and local food networks. Businesses in the sectors of biocontrol and the production of farming equipment as well as plant proteins that are engaged in the agroecological transition are to be accompanied with different measures totalling €10 million. Another €6 million have been allocated to nine national civil society organisations in order to help them initiate projects to fight food precarity and promote fresh and local produce across different territories and especially in rural areas, while local civil society organisations are expected to receive an additional €24 million by this summer. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.fr)

UK 
According to the BBC, trade issues between Ireland and the UK have shown signs of easing, although complexities remain. Food products face the greatest level of new checks and controls when moving from Britain to Ireland. Hazel Sheridan, from the department of agriculture, said that while there have been lots of improvements, a continuing issue for her staff was errors in the export health certificates (EHC) which must accompany products like meat and dairy products. (Natasha Foote| EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN
The multi-national food company Danone has committed to eliminating the expiration date in 80% of the products that it sells in Spain throughout 2021, which will allow them to be safe to consume at any time as long as they are kept in the right conditions. This is something that the European Commission has been cautious on so far. EURACTIV’s partner EFEAgro reports.

Events

17 May – Farm Europe is holding a virtual event on “How innovation in plant breeding boosts sustainable farming in the EU”. Register here.

19 May- There is a launch event for an independent study on whether the CAP’s new proposed green architecture help address the biodiversity crisis

19 May – There is a EURACTIV event on how innovative animal nutrition strategies and solutions can be more effectively deployed at farm level to improve animal health and welfare. See here for details.

20 May – There is the 4th meeting of the Thematic Group on the European Green Deal and rural areas. See here for more information.

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