Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski wants to hold off implementing the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy, the Farm to Fork strategy, despite Commission Vice-President Fran Timmermans’ call to preserve the EU’s green ambition even in challenging times.
In a hearing at the European Parliament’s agriculture committee (COMAGRI) on Thursday (17 March), the Polish Commissioner informed MEPs on the next steps the EU executive plans to cope with the knock-on impact of the Ukraine war on the EU, as well as international food supply chains.
“Now we need to stop the procedure, to suspend the procedure,” the Polish commissioner said replying to a question from centre-right MEP Herbert Dorfmann who asked what the Commission intends to do with “certain pieces of legislation which could question food security, for example, the pesticides directive, nature restoration law.”
According to Wojciechowski, the agrifood policy for the next months should be based on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) strategic plans without adding anything more.
National strategic plans (NSPs) are one of the main novelties of the reformed CAP, the EU’s massive farming subsidies programme, which will run from 2023 to 2027.
Through these plans, EU countries detail how they will meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP while responding to the needs of farmers and rural communities.
“It should be clear for the farmer that the strategic plans are now the key document, the most important document. This is my position in the Commission: not to give more outside the strategic plans,” he told MEPs.
The stance of relying more on the core agriculture policy framework and less on the sustainable goals set in the European Green Deal contradicts what Timmermans advocated last week.
“Please, don’t believe in the illusion that […] you would help food production by making it less sustainable, by not opting for Farm to Fork strategy, by not making it more resilient in terms of the natural environment and the food production,” he warned at the European Parliament’s environment committee (ENVI) on 7 March.
Pesticide framework, restoration targets postponed?
Wojciechowski also anticipated that there would be “an orientation debate, a special meeting of the Commission to look at food security” next Monday (21 March).
This meeting is scheduled when EU-27 agriculture ministers meet in Brussels to discuss the way ahead concerning the European agrifood policy amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The main concerns are related to food security, an issue that has taken on a new significance in the past few days, given Ukraine and Russia’s central role in supplying the world with staple grains and oils.
Together, the two agricultural powerhouses provide more than a third of the world’s wheat and barley, 52% of maize and over 50% of sunflower oil and seeds.
A mention of food security was included in the final declarations after the informal EU leaders’ summit in Versailles. “We will improve our food security by reducing our dependencies on imported agricultural products and inputs,” the final text read.
The Commission will unveil a communication dedicated explicitly to food security next Wednesday (23 March), when two cornerstones of the Farm to Fork strategy – the revision of the EU’s pesticide framework and the nature restoration targets- were initially scheduled to be unveiled.
Contacted by EURACTIV, the EU executive did not confirm whether these two pieces of legislation are still scheduled for next week, as rumours of a postponement are mounting in Brussels.
Presenting his election programme on Thursday (17 March), French President Emmanuel Macron said he wants to reopen discussions on the EU’s Farm to fork initiative because “profound food crises” are expected, particularly outside Europe, and have to be dealt with.
European Parliament clash too
The debate over ‘suspending’ Farm to Fork reverberated upon the European Parliament, with a clash between agriculture (COMAGRI) and environment (ENVI) committees.
Last week, the majority groups in the Parliament’s AGRI wrote a letter to Wojciechowski asking to relax certain sustainability aspects of the EU law for food security.
Agriculture committee MEPs called on the Commission to grant more flexibility for increasing the acreage of lands under production and for importing crucial commodities from third countries, as well as to temporarily allow the use of plant protection products “where effective on those ecological focus areas, which are suitable for growing protein crops for the duration of the crisis.”
The letter received harsh criticism from the Greens and the Left, who are pushing not to look over sustainability aspects of the agrifood policy.
On Wednesday (16 March), ENVI coordinators wrote a letter to Timmermans asking not to hold off the future legislative proposal for a framework for a sustainable food system, as it “is now more pertinent than ever.”
“Pursuing the objectives of the Farm to Fork Strategy within the European Green Deal is the way forward,” ENVI lawmakers wrote, calling on the Commission to resist the push from some member states and stakeholders.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]