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Reforms & Animal Health on the Agenda at Council Meeting

24 January 2012, at 11:31pm

EU - The 3140th Agriculture and Fisheries council meeting took place yesterday (23 January). The council discussed the agriculture and fisheries work programme, the CAP reform proposal, the EU strategy for the protection and welfare of animals and the outbreak of the Schmallenberg virus.

Presidency work programme

The Presidency gave a public presentation on its work programme in the agriculture and fisheries sectors (5196/12). For the Danish Presidency, the EU should promote the transition to a green economy and enhance its focus on sustainability. An agricultural sector that embraces environmentally, nature and climate-friendly farming methods is part of the solution. Similarly, action is to be taken to bring about a sustainable reform of the EU fisheries policy.

The agricultural policy priorities will include:

The common agricultural policy (CAP) reform package by:

  • Identifying key elements for a compromise on the four main regulations (direct payments, rural development, single common market organisation (CMO) and financing the CAP);
  • Organising focussed debates on thematic issues such as innovation, greening or simplification;
  • Seeking agreement with the European Parliament on the proposals concerning transitional measures for the direct payments and the wine sector.

The alignment of the agricultural legislation to Lisbon-Treaty, for which the Presidency hope to reach an agreement with the European Parliament;

A presentation and orientation debate on the amendment of financing the CAP in relation to transparency and a Commission communication on the promotion of agricultural products;

Research and innovation in the agricultural sector

The priorities for fisheries policy will focus on:

The reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP) by:

  • Continuing the discussion and concluding the debate on certain parts of the CFP reform package (new basic regulation, new common market organisation and new European maritime and fisheries fund 2014-2020);
  • Working on diminishing unwanted catches and effectively bring discards to an end;
  • Promoting the sustainability of the external dimension of the CFP;
  • The conclusion of proposals for the renewal of several bilateral protocols to fisheries partnership agreements;

Other important proposals:

  • Specific conditions for fishing for deep sea stocks;
  • Debate about the yearly communication from the Commission on fishing opportunities for 2013.

As regards food and veterinary issues the Presidency intends to work on:

Ensuring and improving the existing high food safety standards and adequate information to consumers by:

  • Reaching agreement with the European Parliament on the proposal on food intended for infants and young children and on food for special medical purposes;
  • Prioritizing organic production and confidence with organic products;
  • Working on the Commission package on food quality for reaching and agreement with the European Parliament;

Focussing on antimicrobial resistance and on the use of antimicrobials in both human and veterinary medicine (Presidency conference on 14-15/03/2012 - Copenhagen);

Working on the modernisation of the official meat control systems towards a risk assessment based approach (Presidency conference on 2-3/02/2012 - Copenhagen);

Making a priority of animal welfare and health by:

  • working on the EU strategy for animal welfare (Presidency and Commission conference on 29/02-1/03/2012 - Brussels);
  • seeking to reach consensus on Council conclusions on the protection of animals during transport.

CAP reform - Single common market organisation

Ministers held an exchange of views on the proposal for a regulation establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products (Single common market organisation (CMO) regulation) within the framework of the common agricultural policy (CAP) (15397/11; 5240/12). The debate focussed on the exceptional measures in case of market disturbances and on the proposed measures aiming at a more competitive and well functioning food supply chain, in particular the reinforcement of producer organisations.

As regards measures to respond rapidly to an agricultural crisis, most of the Member States considered the proposal went in the right direction. While some delegations welcomed the creation of a specific crisis fund in case of major disturbance applying to all the agricultural productions, some other highlighted the need for this fund to be used only in exceptional circumstances which should be clearly defined. In addition, some Member States questioned the financing of this crisis fund.

Concerning the reinforcement of producer organisations and the role to attribute to interbranch organisations, many countries backed the proposals from the Commission. They considered that this should help to better balance the bargaining power of producers in the food chain. However a number of delegations stressed that the new rules concerning producer organisations should be voluntary in order to adapt to the different national situations. Some Member States insisted that this should not introduce a competition distortion.

Many countries mentioned that the end of sugar quotas scheduled for 2015 should be postponed to allow the sector to better adapt. Concerning the wine plantation rights that several would like to be maintained after 2018, the Commission announced the setting up of a high level group (HLG) with the purpose of discussing the measures needed in wine sector. Recommendations from this HLG are expected at the end of this year.

In 2008, the single CMO regulation has replaced 21 CMO existing at this time and covering different agricultural products. It constituted a major step in the process of streamlining and simplifying the CAP by putting all market measures in a single text.

The proposal for a new single CMO is part of the CAP reform package which was presented by the Commission at the Agriculture Council meeting in October 2011. On that occasion, the Council held an initial public debate on the whole package.

Together with the proposals on direct payments, on rural development and on the financing of the CAP, the proposal for a regulation on single CMO is one of the four main proposals to be adopted by the Council and the European Parliament (ordinary legislative procedure).

Concerning the CAP reform, the Council already held a first round of policy debates on the proposed regulations. The debates on direct payments and rural development took place at the Agriculture Council meetings in November and December last year. The debate on single CMO was the last discussion of this round.

In the coming month, the Danish Presidency intends to begin another round of policy debates more focussed on specific thematic issues. The first debates of this kind will be organised in March and will concern the direct payments and the simplification of the CAP. Later other issues such as the greening of the CAP, the notion of "active farmer" or innovation should also be discussed.

EU animal welfare strategy

Several Member States welcomed the main elements proposed in this strategy, such as having an harmonised implementation of the current legislative framework in this area, informing better consumers or optimise synergies with the CAP. However, some delegations pointed out the need for measures to ensure global competitiveness of EU operators vis-a-vis third countries that do not apply the same standards on animal welfare.

This new four year strategy aims to further improve the protection and welfare of animals in the EU primarily through the possibility of establishing a new comprehensive legislative framework for animal welfare and via the reinforcement of existing actions.

The diversity of farming systems, climatic conditions, land realities in the different Member States have led to considerable difficulties in agreeing on unitary rules and even more difficulties in ensuring their correct implementation. This result in an uneven playing field as far as animal welfare conditions is concerned.

Problems persist such as the lack of enforcement of EU legislation at the national level or insufficient incentives to comply with animal welfare rules. In addition, it appears that many of the involved parties lack sufficient knowledge or training about animal welfare and that there is a lack of specific EU legislation in this area for some categories of animals.

In order to address these issues the strategy proposes a two-fold approach consisting of: the setting up of a comprehensive animal welfare legislative framework focusing on the welfare outcome and on the education of all concerned parties; and the reinforcement or better use of actions already in place such as strengthening Member State compliance with the legal requirements, enhancing the existing international cooperation or providing consumers with better information.

The first animal welfare strategy was adopted in 2006. The new strategy proposed builds on the old one, in particular on lessons learned during the five-year implementation period of the first action plan.

The Council was also informed that the Danish Presidency and the Commission will host a conference on animal welfare on 29 February and 1 March 2012 in Brussels and it took note of the Presidency's intentions to further discuss this matter at a forthcoming session. This issue is one of the priorities of the Danish Presidency (See point on the work programme).

Schmallenberg Virus

Several delegations supported the Dutch request for a coordinated EU approach regarding this new disease, including rapid exchange of information on the detected cases, combined research efforts on diagnostics, epidemiology and vaccine development, and financial support by the Commission for monitoring and research.

According to the Commission, EU could finance research in this area. The Commission underlines the need for a unified, proportionate approach and encourages voluntary reporting of this disease and monitoring by the Member States.