Commission mulls new communication on impact of energy crisis on the agri sector

The agricultural sector is already being heavily impacted by the invasion, evidenced by skyrocketing fertiliser costs.  [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Commission is considering a new, separate communication on the impact of the energy crisis explicitly focused on the agriculture sector alongside a broader communication on the energy crisis, according to sources.

Asked by EURACTIV whether the Commission will put forward a communication specifically on the agricultural sector and energy prices, an EU spokesperson declined to respond directly, reiterating instead that the Commission will adopt a communication on energy prices next week which includes the “knock-on effects on farmers, inputs and food prices and possible ways to address these issues”.

However, an EU source confirmed suspicions that a second, separate communication, focusing specifically on agriculture, is an idea currently being floated by the EU executive.

“We are reflecting on a separate communication,” the source told EURACTIV, adding they have no further details for the moment. 

The source also pointed out that the EU executive has already committed to strengthening the EU’s framework on food security as a follow-up to its communication on a contingency plan. 

“We have now agreed on the membership of the expert group which will lead on our plans to better protect food security,” the source said, adding that the first meeting of the group will take place “urgently, most likely already next week”.

The activation of crisis monitoring tools, particularly the European food security crisis preparedness and response mechanism set up by the Commission, was agreed upon by the EU-27 agriculture ministers on Wednesday (2 March) at an extraordinary meeting.

Ukraine war puts EU food security into spotlight, agri sector told to brace for impact

The war in Ukraine has thrown the thorny issue of food security in the EU to the fore as the European Commission warns the EU agri-food sector to brace itself for impact, both now and in the long term.

It comes on the back of news that several key agricultural references appear to have not made the cut between an earlier version of a draft proposal of the EU executive’s communication on energy prices, obtained before the invasion of Ukraine, and a second draft, obtained by EURACTIV on 2 March. 

These omissions add strength to the idea that some parts could be taken out and moved into a dedicated communication focused on the impact of the energy crisis on the agriculture sector.

Given the wide-ranging implications of the current war in Ukraine on the EU, it comes as no surprise that the document, which is due to be published 8 March after a short delay, has undergone some extensive changes. 

However, there are several notable absences in the agricultural sector, despite the fact it is already heavily impacted by the invasion, evidenced by skyrocketing fertiliser costs. 

For comparison, while the first draft contained 16 references to ‘food’ and 11 mentions of ‘agri’ (including, for example, ‘agricultural’ and ‘agri-food’), the newer version contains only five and nine, respectively. 

Notably, an action point on agricultural market measures has been dropped in favour of one on ensuring minimum gas storage.

This means that a commitment from the EU executive to map out the risks and vulnerabilities of the EU food supply chain and its critical infrastructures, which was due to be followed by an assessment within the Food Contingency expert group, has been scrapped.

Meanwhile, a reference to a dedicated communication on agriculture and food and feed prices earmarked for March 2022 has also disappeared, as has a mention of “open strategic autonomy” in the sector. 

However, a reference to a proposal to give member states the possibility to grant aid to use less conventional fertilisers that are currently highly affected by increased gas prices has survived the change. 

Likewise, a request for member states to channel Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding towards biogas production remains. 

The new draft further proposes a new pilot project to demonstrate how CAP funding can support biogas production in rural areas and promote opportunities in the biogas sector among EU farmers.

LEAK: Commission banks on biogas to protect EU farmers from energy crisis

Biogas production has been earmarked as a key way to help fortify the EU’s struggling farm sector against burgeoning energy costs, according to a draft of the European Commission’s communication on energy prices due to be published next month.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]

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