Polish Agriculture Commissioner-designate Janusz Wojciechowski spoke his mother tongue at his reparatory hearing on Tuesday (8 October) and delivered a compelling enough performance to persuade MEPs in the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee (AGRI) to confirm him as the next EU farming boss.
Although group coordinators in AGRI unanimously rewarded Wojciechowski’s second attempt to win their confidence, their counterparts in the Environment Committee (ENVI) voted down the Pole, EURACTIV.com has learnt. However, AGRI was the leading committee for Wojciechowski’s approval.
“It’s a good decision, I think we have to give him a chance, particularly if he will work closely with the European Parliament,” Renew Europe group coordinator in AGRI, Ulrike Müller, told EURACTIV after the hearing.
She also admitted that discussions on Wojciechowski’s fate in her political group were not that easy, but in the end, they reached a common position in his favour.
“He was clear enough on organic culture and on ensuring no renationalisation of EU agriculture,” the Greens group coordinator in AGRI, Martin Häusling, told EURACTIV.
For EPP group spokesman in AGRI, the Italian MEP Herbert Dorfmann, Wojciechowski was overall much better than at the first hearing and much more committed and prepared, although “some doubts remain within our political group.”
In his first hearing on 1 October, Wojciechowski spent most of the time on the ropes, taking successive blows from relentless MEPs who went ballistic as the Pole used “I’m open to discussions” mantra in reply to every technical question.
“Last time, I received a very clear signal from you: you don’t want a Commissioner only open to dialogue but you expect concrete actions,” Wojciechowski said today.
“And I’m ready to take actions,” he continued. “Issue relating to rural areas are very close to my heart, as I was raised on a farm that was run by my parents.”
In today’s replies, Wojciechowski also tried to give more details on EU programmes already in place, showing he had done his homework this time.
But more strategically, he decided to address MEPs in Polish, his mother tongue, increasing the quality of his replies to the benefit of the overall discussion.
Organic farming and convergence
“I will support organic farming that might contribute to the protection of the natural environment and I will present an action plan to develop organic farming,” he announced.
According to the Pole, organic and traditional farming could coexist, as there is no real conflict between the two different farming practices.
“We have to produce healthy food, but it’s not the quantity of food that matters, even if it is important for food security. Maintaining [high standards of] food quality is my main task,” he said.
But Wojciechowski also said that internal and external convergence is on the table: “We are on the way to harmonise everything but what we need is more ambition in politics and radical decisions.”
“We also have this problem of inequalities among member states and this should be stopped,” Wojciechowski pointed out, adding that 15 years after the big enlargement, the division between the old and a new Europe should no longer exist.
“A fair solution has to be found,” he concluded.
Speaking of forestry preservation, he said the EU must employ measures under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to protect forests.
“Some countries put forward very strong policies”, he added, mentioning Poland and its Białowieża forest as “a very effective forest management system.”
His party, the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), drew criticism from the EU three years ago when logging activities in Białowieża area started, which lead to an EU Court of Justice ruling that forced Poland to immediately stop felling trees there.
Also on the post-2020 CAP, he seemed to provoke MEPs when he was grilled again about whether he intends to keep or overhaul his predecessor Phil Hogan’s proposal.
“The mandate I received from Ursula von der Leyen is to carry on the reform and finish it,” the Pole said, “I know the position of the Commission as it was in April 2019. However, I do not have the final position of the European Parliament yet.”
‘Surprised’ on US tariffs
Socialist group coordinator Paolo De Castro asked about punitive US tariffs on EU agri-food products after World Trade Organisation (WTO) had ruled in favour of the US and against the EU over subsidies for the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
“I’m aware of the situation, and the dramatic decision surprised all of us,” Wojciechowski said.
“But it’s not the first time in world politics that farmers were innocent victims of a conflict that should be avoided,” said Wojciechowski, who’s also confident in a settlement of the issue that will harm nobody.
“If not, we should estimate the consequences for European agriculture and trigger some aid systems. Different solutions are available and we experienced some of them during the Russian ban, for instance,” he added, referring to Moscow’s ban on a range of EU agricultural products, in place since 2014.
Wojciechowski also noted that the EU does not need to import a lot of soybeans from the US and that member states should produce their own protein instead.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]