Dacian Ciolo?, the EU’s commissioner-designate for agriculture, pledged equal distribution of EU farm aid across the EU 27 and fair income for farmers during a three-hour confirmation hearing in the European Parliament on Friday (15 January). His vision for a strong post-2013 EU farm policy convinced members of the House and reassured farmers alike.
“The main priority of my mandate is to define the perspective of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) after 2013,” said Ciolo?, presenting his vision for his potential five-year mandate in the Barroso II Commission.
The Romanian nominee for the European Commission said that the reformed policy should give farmers a stable and predictable environment, consumers safe and healthy food and taxpayers assurances that their money is being spent in an efficient and transparent manner.
“Nothing achieved so far [with the CAP] can be taken for granted,” he said, stressing that the main objectives of the policy are to ensure food security for Europe and a decent income for farmers.
He also said that reducing the production capacity of European agriculture is not in the interest of the EU, pledging to keep a strong and well-funded EU farm policy even after 2013.
According to the commissioner-designate, the EU’s current CAP budget is “justified”. Indeed, “the cost of non-support” would simply be too high, particularly for food security. If it was up to him, he would try to get even more money for the CAP, he said.
“Reform does not mean decreasing the budget,” he declared, adding: “We need a budget commensurate to our objectives.”
Direct payments distribution reviewed
Ciolo? stressed that direct payments under the CAP’s first pillar are an important element of farming income and should be maintained, but called for a review of distribution to make the payments more equal across the EU 27.
He said that future payments needed to be made via “one system,” but with some consideration of regional characteristics. Payments are currently made per hectare in the ‘new’ member states and per holding in the ‘old’ ones.
Rural development policy to be ‘eco-conditionned’
Furthermore, Ciolo? said that a “new criteria for granting aid” was needed. Future EU money could include “eco-conditionality,” he suggested, referring to the need to support sustainable agriculture through the CAP’s second pillar (rural development policy).
Rural development policy should continue to help restructure and modernise farms, and help farmers to deliver sustainable agriculture, adopt climate change adaptation measures and address CO2 emissions and declining biodiversity, he said.
The policy should also be better used to deliver public goods, such as quality soil and water or landscape management, he added.
Asked whether the CAP’s two-pillar structure would lead to ‘double-agriculture’ – with first pillar payments used for “business as usual” and the second pillar for environmental and rural development measures – Ciolo? said he would not insist on what form the future CAP should take, but rather seek to ensure balanced content and financing for all from the EU budget.
The commissioner-designate could thus accept the merging of the current CAP’s two-pillar structure.
Promotion of local production, markets
Ciolo? stressed that a significant number of EU farms are small and that the CAP’s second pillar must take account of their specific nature while seeking to modernise.
“We are not necessarily seeking to make farms bigger,” Ciolo? stressed, but to develop smaller farms to make them contribute to local food production and create local production circuits, he continued.
He also argued that valuing and promoting local production and markets can help the overall move from energy-intense agriculture to “energy-savvy” agriculture.
Quality: An asset for competitiveness
The commissioner-designate underlined that high EU food quality and standards need to be better promoted in international trade negotiations and quality used as an argument when promoting EU products.
To improve the competitiveness of EU farmers, he said the Commission should help them to adapt to new challenges, and help to find the right balance between the use of direct payments and international negotiations to allow farmers to better use opportunities in the world market.
As for the current Doha round of WTO talks on liberalising world agricultural trade, Ciolo? said “the EU has already made enough concessions,” claiming it was now up to other partners to come up with new proposals.
Volatility of prices
Ciolo? stressed that there was no going back to quotas, on milk for example, because while quotas can be used to regulate supply, they cannot regulate demand.
However, he said the EU needed new instruments to address price fluctuations and that the Commission was currently analysing the possibility of setting a minimum price for milk at national level between producers and industry (EURACTIV 08/09/09).
Regarding genetically-modified food and feed, the commissioner-designate said that both consumers and farmers should be allowed to choose whether they want to either purchase or cultivate it, and that member states’ choices should be respected.
He was particularly concerned about the EU’s dependency on GM-soy imports for animal feed and suggested that European feed producers should be given the opportunity to produce GM feed.