Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Whats happening in Brussels this week

This week in Brussels is hectic to say the least with both the committees meeting and a mini plenary session on Wednesday and Thursday.

The EU Farm Commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, was at the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in which she set out her priorities for the forthcoming year.

These included:

  • The proposal for an EU School Fruit Scheme that is to be adopted in November as a way in which to tackle the problem with the growing number of overweight and obese children across the EU. The Commission has been consulting widely on this over the past year and looking at different schemes in the member states.
  • The publication of a public consultation (a “Green Paper”) on agricultural product quality policy in October 2008 with the aim of increasing consumer awareness of the efforts made by EU farmers in following the highest production standards in the word when it comes to animal welfare, food safety, traceability, etc, putting the spotlight on the EU scheme for Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) and Protected Geographical Indications (PGIs) and whether or not EU-level certification schemes are necessary for covering, e.g. animal welfare and environmental claims. Following the Green Paper the Commission intends to publish a Communication in 2009.
  • A Communication in 2009 on the adaptation of agriculture to climate change.

While these are all important issues for Scotland, one issue which is set to dominate the agenda is the Commission’s proposals on the CAP health check, which are set to be published on 20 May at a special meeting of the Agriculture Committee in Strasbourg. The Commission wants to see this adopted during the course of 2008 and with France taking over the helm in running the EU come July this should make for an interesting 6 months.

On the issue of rising food prices, the Commissioner’s view was that biofuels were being used as a scapegoat: “the EU biofuel policy only has a rather limited effect on prices given the less than 1% of cereals production is used for bio-ethanol production”. This was in complete contradiction to comments made by the special adviser to the UN Secretary-General, Jeffrey Sachs, who had been at the Parliament’s Development Committee yesterday and said EU and US policy on biofuels had to be rethought as they no longer made sense in the current global food shortage climate.

The Commission argues that it expects farmers to respond to market signals and to increase production in response to higher prices. To help boost production, the EU is abolishing set-aside, increasing milk quotas (with a 2% increase on 1 April 2008), suspending cereal import duties. The Commissioner also said that as part of the CAP health check proposals she was intending to scrap the 45 Euro per hectare subsidy for renewable fuels and re-investing it in R&D for second-generation fuels.

We await the health check proposals with keen interest and will certainly be working closely with Scotland’s farmers, the farming communities, the Scottish government and various other key interested stakeholders to ensure Scotland’s farming interests have a strong and effective voice in these crucial discussions.

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