Tuesday 27 September 2016

Brussels briefing: 'The Commission will always stand by farmers' - Juncker

Sarah Collins

Published 21/09/2016 | 02:30

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker

Milk won't be cheaper than water as long as Jean-Claude Juncker is European Commission chief.

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In his flagship annual speech this year, Mr Juncker pledged to "preserve" the EU's agricultural sector, which he called "a strong part of our European way of life".

"The Commission will always stand by our farmers, particularly when they go through difficult moments, as is the case today," he said. "I will not accept that milk is cheaper than water."

EU and national officials met last week to discuss the dairy crisis, including the available safety net for the sector under the CAP, decoupled payments and price observatories.

The move comes the week after EU agriculture ministers agreed on the need for an EU-wide response to help farmers deal with price and other pressures from commodity markets and supermarket giants.

Slovak finance minister Gabriela Matená, said that farmers "must have fair trade conditions throughout the common market." Afterwards agriculture minister Michael Creed said: "I think experience in Ireland and elsewhere has shown that voluntary or self-regulatory approaches to dealing with unfair trading practices are of limited value. I would therefore welcome a more active Commission interest in EU legislation," he said.

The Commission has set aside €1bn since last September to aid mainly dairy and pork farmers following market volatility, the end of milk quotas and the Russian import ban.

What it means for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), however, is not clear.

France is keen to see more permanent crisis management measures under any new CAP post-2020, but new ideas are still in their infancy and EU countries are only starting to set out their individual stalls.

What did come out of the Juncker speech was a further round of CAP simplification, the fifth in the last year.

The reform brings in "income stabilisation tools" for farmers in specific sectors.

It also makes it easier for farmers - particularly young farmers - to access loans and other financial instruments.

Green light for gm maizes

Ten genetically modified (GM) maizes for use in food and animal feed have been authorised by Commission.

The EU executive said the genetically modified organisms went through a “full authorisation procedure”, which includes a favourable scientific assessment by the European Food Safety Authority.

There was no pushback from EU governments on the approval, which will last for 10 years. The products produced from the different kinds of GM maize will be subject to strict labelling rules. European parliamentarians are pushing for a change in the EU’s approval system to make it more transparent. Earlier this year they voted against authorising the use of glyphosate-tolerant GM soybeans in food and feed.

Irish pushing for retail reforms

EU and national officials met last week to discuss the dairy crisis, including the available safety net for the sector under the CAP, decoupled payments and price observatories.

The move comes after EU agriculture ministers agreed on the need for an EU-wide response to help farmers deal with price and other pressures from commodity markets and supermarket giants.

“Farmers are producing our food and thus determining our health,” said Slovak finance minister Gabriela Matená, who chaired informal talks in Bratislava on the issue. “They must have fair trade conditions throughout the common market.”

Ireland is one of the countries pushing

for the EU make new laws to protect farmers, especially from retailers that bargain down prices and change contract terms on a whim.

“I think experience in Ireland and elsewhere has shown that voluntary or  self-regulatory approaches to dealing with unfair trading practices are of limited value,” said agriculture minister Michael Creed.

“I would therefore welcome a more active Commission interest in EU legislation,” he said.

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