The EU's Agriculture Ministers met in Brussels on 14 December 2015 for the last Agriculture and Fisheries Council organised under the Luxembourg Presidency. Chaired by Fernand Etgen, the Luxembourg Minister of Agriculture, the Council discussed sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the bio-economy. The Presidency also informed the Council about the progress of work regarding the proposals for school fruit and vegetables, bananas and milk schemes. Finally, Ministers considered the deteriorating situation in the pork sector.
Sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the bio-economy
The Ministers exchanged views on the foresight exercise conducted by the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR) entitled 'Sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the bio-economy – A challenge for Europe' in the context of developing a long-term EU strategy for research and agricultural innovation. 'I wish to recall that throughout our Presidency we wanted to highlight the theme of sustainable agriculture, which is essential in our view', declared Fernand Etgen at the press conference which followed the Council meeting.
SCAR was established in 1974 under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) legislation It's main objective was to coordinate agricultural research between Member States and the European Commission. A new impetus has been granted at EU level to research regarding agriculture, forests, food and bio-based industries in Horizon 2020.
The fourth SCAR foresight exercise launched in spring 2014 explored the interactions between the primary sector and the bio-economy. By focusing on the future and through the development of a paradigm for the bio-economy based on sustainability, the exercise facilitated reflection about not only what will happen, but also what might happen. The report resulting from this exercise highlights three scenarios (2050) in a long-term perspective based on varying levels of biomass supply and demand – 'BIO Scarcity', 'BIO Modesty' and 'BIO Boom' – and used to describe the possibilities and the risks for the different sectors.
The foresight report takes stock of the situation concerning the bio-economy by presenting three main sectors using bio-resources from the primary sector: the food-feed, the materials chemicals and the fuel-energy systems.
The report makes it clear that, for sustainable production and consumption, decisions on the strategy to be adopted should be based on a systematic approach. The production systems for animal food and feed, as well as production of materials and energy, must be considered in their complexity and through a holistic and integrated approach.
For future policy, the key implication of the analysis and conclusions of the foresight t is that the bio-economy only thrive if it is sustainable in terms of its social, economic and environmental dimensions.
School milk, fruit and vegetables schemes
The Presidency also briefed the Council on the state of play on the proposals relating to the supply of fruit, vegetables, bananas and milk in schools. After welcoming the preliminary agreement reached in trialogue with the European Parliament on 10 December 2015, Fernand Etgen indicated that this must be confirmed by the Special Committee on Agriculture on 16 December 2015.
The European Commissioner for Agriculture, Phil Hogan, also welcomed the agreement, which according to him is one of 'the most important subjects of our market package announced in September this year'.
By way of reminder, school milk or fruit and vegetables schemes currently fall within two separate programmes benefiting from EU aid. In January 2014, the Commission adopted two proposals merging the schemes, including one modifying the regulation on the new common organisation of the markets (Single CMO) under the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the other amends the regulation on fixing certain aids and refunds.
During the negotiations in trilogue, the points of disagreement were mainly related to the legal basis of the proposal, the list of eligible products and the credit transfer rate from one programme to another.
Difficulties in the pigmeat sector
At the request of the Polish delegation, the ministers took stock of the deteriorating situation in the pigmeat sector.
Since the beginning of 2014, the pigmeat sector in the EU has had to face an outbreak of African swine fever in some Member States and the consequences ofthe Russian embargo on some European agricultural products. Since then, the market has been under pressure, with low prices, and is still deteriorating, as indicated in the background note of the Council.
In this respect, exceptional support for the sector provides for temporary and exceptional aid to farmers in the livestock sectors. The note indicates that to significantly support the pigmeat sector, the planned launch of a private storage scheme is welcomed. This measure should be implemented as soon as possible because of the sector's difficult situation. The Polish delegation fears however that those measures will be insufficient to stabilise the pigmeat market.
At the press conference, Phil Hogan underlined that the market had been 'very difficult for some time'. He referred to the new measures introduced by the Commission, notably a new private storage aid system, which will take effect on 4 January 2016. 'This is a more generous plan than the previous with 20% more aid'. Phil Hogan added that the stored products will exit the intervention to be exported, welcoming a system that is 'more flexible' with 'more generous' aid.
The Commissioner stated that he was 'not in favour' of the introduction of export refunds as proposed by Polandbecause 'although the price situation is still difficult, there has still been an increase of 3.2% at slaughter over the past year in volume'.
As regards the Russian embargo and the effects on pigmeat, Phil Hogan indicated that the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Vytenis Andriukaitis, the Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, and himself had 'tried to cooperate with the Russian authorities' on the issue of opening up new possibilities, notably concerning the fifth quarter (lard, fat and offal) but had not yet been successful. The Commissioner said he had asked the Russian authorities to make proposals on how to provide this fifth quarter of pork and is still waiting for a response.
Veterinary medical products and medicated feed
The Presidency briefed the Council on the progress of the review of proposals on veterinary medicines and on the manufacturing, marketing and use of medicated animal feed.
The Presidency of the Council also summarised the key issues for the EU that were discussed as part of Codex Alimentarius in 2015.
Finally, the Presidency briefed the Council on the conclusions of the CEJA conference entitled "Empowering young farmers – a pillar of Europe 2050", which took place from the 1st to the 3rd of July 2015 in Ettelbrück (Luxembourg).