EU farmers are “quite worried” about the fact that the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development (DG Agri) is often disregarded when it comes to policy decisions that have a direct impact on the farming community, such as the biofuels debate.
“We are quite worried about the trend that DG Agri has been pushed aside in many agriculture-related questions, such as the future of biofuels,” said Copa-Cogeca Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen.
Copa-Cogeca, the EU farmers’ association, held a conference on 11 June about the ongoing talks for the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and particularly about the future of the first-generation biofuels.
As part of the RED, the executive has proposed reducing the contribution of conventional biofuels in transport from a maximum of 7% in 2021 to 3.8% in 2030 [See background].
It also set an obligation to raise the share of other ‘low emissions fuels’ such as renewable electricity and advanced biofuels in transport to 6.8%.
On the other hand, the European Parliament decided in January to phase-out palm oil by 2021 and cap crop-based biofuels at the member states’ 2017 consumption levels and no more than 7% of all transport fuels until 2030.
For their part, farmers want the EU to maintain at 7% until 2030 the maximum accountable share of crop-based biofuels used in transport. They say that EU crop-based biofuels are crucial in order to meet the EU’s ambitious climate and energy targets and to ensure an environmental-friendly transport sector and vibrant rural areas.
Farmers also stress that crop-based biofuels are important when it comes to animal feed, saying that they have significantly contributed to decreasing the dependence on imports, especially in light of the proposed EU protein strategy.
A final trilogue on RED is scheduled for Wednesday (13 June); however, it’s still unclear whether the member states, the Commission and the Parliament will reach a compromise.
EU farmers say the Commission’s proposal does not reflect or take into account the “agricultural reality” and that DG Agri was “not properly consulted”.
“By definition, I would say that DG Agri most probably was not properly consulted. It’s more a political decision than a decision based on agronomical facts,” Pesonen said, referring to the biofuels debate.
“We need to keep in mind that quite often when we talk about agricultural commodity markets, other Commission services are keen on putting their requirements and proposals in place; but it is quite often that DG Agri has to pick up the pieces and correct the situation.”
Pesonen explained that DG Agri might be politically “popular”, but it does have an important role to play and has to be heard much more.
He also referred to the discussion about harm protection products, saying that DG Agri was not in charge but the decision had a direct impact on DG Agri.
A discrimination against EU’s own production
Pesonen noted that EU farmers can demonstrate “without any doubt” that their production of biofuel commodities, mainly oilseeds and sugar beets, fulfils the minimum requirement of sustainability because they are part of the CAP.
“We are sustainable by definition.”
“This is not the case with the imported palm oil,” he said, referring basically to palm oil from South East Asian countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
He explained that there is absolutely no evidence that the food markets have been distorted because the prices have not increased because of biofuels.
“We have nothing to hide: we are exposed to the CAP regulatory requirements all across. We can cultivate and produce biofuels and we cannot escape them [requirements] because we are dependent on support.”
“What we are looking for is giving farmers a more market-relevant income and an alternative to produce. Especially if we can combine that with agricultural practices that are also awarded by the CAP, such as crop rotation,” Pesonen added.
The Danish expert emphasised that the EU farming community, especially France, Germany and Poland, had made majors investments in the sector.
“We need to give the sector a chance to demonstrate that we can help the EU rely less on fossil fuel and be more self-efficient in energy markets.”
“If their purpose is to discriminate against EU’s own production, and especially farmers, why don’t they say that? Instead, they come up with multipliers and more favourable treatment of energy sources that cannot fulfil the same criteria,” Pesonen underlined.
Rejection of multipliers
EU farmers also oppose the so-called double or multiple-counting, which means, for instance, that if advanced biofuel consumption is 2%; it will be counted as 4% of the total energy used in transport. The same applies to green electricity, for which the EU Council has proposed a multiplier of five, meaning that for every two electric cars, ten will be counted in the final analysis.
“We believe that using multipliers, for instance for electricity, pushes aside the fact that a big part of electricity is actually produced by unsustainable methods. We are transparent and we fulfil the minimum requirements for the arable crops that we produce.”
“Electricity is by definition not more sustainable than biofuels. Giving it a multiplier would actually destroy the competition against biofuels.”
Referring to wastes and advanced biofuels, he noted that most of the times there was not a clear definition of commodity and waste as in many cases, technically speaking, there are not big differences.
“We feel this is artificial and only destroys competition with these arable crops from agriculture.”
For Elisabeth Lacoste from the International Confederation of European Beet Growers (C.I.B.E.), using multipliers is a virtual support of this kind of renewable energies that benefits the oil companies and does not really benefit renewable energy.
“For us, the use of multipliers is a trick and virtual support to oil usage,” she said.