Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament (COMAGRI)
The Commissioner was present on the 30th of April to explain to ComAgri members the exceptional measures announced by the European Commission on 22 April and for which nine delegated acts are currently being prepared.
After hearing the remarks of the Members of Parliament, the Commissioner acknowledged the inadequacy of the proposed package without putting forward any substantial amendments. The only positive element in the Commissioner’s remarks was his position in favour of an independent and consistent crisis reserve, taking up the guidelines that Farm Europe has been proposing in this area since 2018.
Following this meeting, President of Comagri, Coordinators and MEP Anne Sander have joinlty decided on the 4th of May to urge the Commission to come with additional measures and financing otherwise a ‘smooth’ adoption of the proposed delegated act dealing with crisis mezsures for the wine sector could be compromised.
Summary of the meeting
The Commissioner thanked ComAgri for the remarks of the 15 April meeting, “inspiring and useful in convincing the College” and welcomed this “exemplary collaboration” between the European Parliament and the Commission in this difficult period. In his list of exceptional measures announced by the Commission on 22 April, he pointed out that, as far as the wine sector was concerned, the crisis distillation and green harvesting measures could jointly benefit the same producer.
The coordinators of the parliamentary groups, and then many MEPs, reacted to the Commissioner’s speeches.
The inadequacy of the aid announced on 22 April was unanimously hammered home by the various political groups. For the wine and fruit and vegetable sector programmes, the current envelopes are insufficient and without additional EU funding, the measures announced – such as crisis distillation – will be ineffective.
In the wine sector, Member States that have used almost all the funds in their national programmes are penalised by the current proposal.
The use of the crisis reserve has been invoked by the different groups. It should be triggered as a matter of urgency to increase the liquidity available to farmers, particularly in the wine sector.
The importance of maintaining the functioning of the common market was stressed.
The difficulties encountered by the veal, pigmeat and poultry sectors were recalled, even though these sectorsare excluded from the measures announced.
The question of the eligibility of lamb and kid (young goat) slaughter prior to the Easter period was raised, as the proposed private storage aid excludes large quantities of sheep and goat meat.
For the beef sector, greater flexibility for cuts eligible for private storage aid is requested.
For the wine sector, additional funds needed for crisis distillation of 10 million litres are urgently expected. More flexibility in the use of the measures by producers is also requested. The possibilities for promotion on the internal market must be extended.
In the dairy sector, the eligibility of curd for private storage aid is requested. The Greens and GUE-NGL call for a reflection on the problem of production surpluses in the context of the future CAP. Opening up access to Article 222 is not enough and there must be coordination at Community level.
For the horticultural sector, the possibility of using Article 222 is insufficient.
Recourse to Article 222 is also insufficient for the potato sector.
State aid is a solution, neither sufficient nor satisfactory, which penalises Member States with fewer resources.
The olive oil sector requires the possibility of recourse to Article 222.
The Commission was asked about its concrete action against unfair trade practices and how it could ensure a strong position for farmers in the chain.
Greater flexibility in the use of second pillar funds is requested.
An advance disbursement of 85% of direct payments and 90% of second pillar funds is requested.
Although the CAP budget in the future MFF is ultimately the responsibilities of the MS, the Commission’s response for agriculture to the current crisis, its place in the recovery plan, is expected.
Agri-tourism must be taken into account in the EU’s recovery strategy.
Obstacles at borders hamper the flow of production and pose a risk of feed shortages.
Conclusions must be drawn from this crisis for the design of the future CAP.
The priority given to the “farm to fork” strategy raises questions, while food self-sufficiency, movement of food and workers are more urgent.
The relevance of beef imports in the context of the agreement with Mexico raises questions for the EU beef sector in the current circumstances.
The EU forestry sector, which employs 3 million people and is already suffering from the consequences of climate change, is in urgent need of financial support.
The Commissioner’s replies
The Commissioner acknowledged the inadequacy of the proposed package.
Moreover, the only positive element in the Commissioner’s response is his position in favour of an independent and substantial crisis reserve. He was in favour of using the crisis reserve, but recommended that in future it should be increased and made independent of direct payments in order to respond to crisis situations such as the present one.
The CAP budget is a political debate dependent on the political will of the Member States, and there is no need to be convinced of this in the Comagri forum.
Local markets must be fully considered for the future, because this crisis shows the greater fragility of highly specialised production that is highly dependent on import and export chains.
The Green Deal and the F2F strategy remain a priority for the EC, but the Commissioner said he is in favour of postponing it so that the lessons of the crisis can be included.
As regards to the place of agriculture in the recovery, the Commissioner made no mention of the ongoing MFF negotiations, and simply assured that he would do “his best” to ensure that agriculture finds “the largest possible place” in them. It is “obvious that agriculture will be taken into account as a strategic sector”.
The veal, poultry and pig sectors were not included in the measures due to budgetary constraints. This has led to priority being given to those sectors, which concern the most Member States.
As far as the beef, goat and sheep sectors are concerned, the Commissioner meant nothing more than the hope that the situation would improve.
On the importance attached to local markets, the Commissioner replied that there was no reason to oppose it with attention to the development of exports. In his view, it is a question of balance. The former have so far been neglected, the fact being that it is often easier to sell one’s goods in export channels than in local ones. The Commissioner therefore calls for strategic thinking.
Making our farmers less dependent on the import of raw materials and exports is the lesson to be learned from this crisis, according to the Commissioner. And this has nothing to do with an attitude of protectionism, he added.
The preservation of the common market for the free movement of workers and goods is essential.
The Commissioner said that transfers of funds between policies were not possible, but flexibility within the second pillar exists. Regulation 1305/2013 allows the use of unused funds in the event of a crisis, and the possibilities for transferring funds within the second pillar will be increased. In particular, it will be possible in this way to support farmers who lose their additional occupation and who in future will have to depend solely on their agricultural work.
For the agri-tourism sector, the Commission will draw up recommendations for the MS so that they can rely on this sector in the revival of tourist activity.