Farm Ireland

Monday 23 April 2018

Brussels briefing: Big Phil stands his ground on TTIP

MEP Lynn Boylan
MEP Lynn Boylan

Sarah Collins

Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan won plaudits last week for standing up to the Americans on the EU-US trade deal, known as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, or TTIP.

His office sent a note to all 28 EU ambassadors in Brussels to counter what one official described as American "bullying" over agricultural tariffs.

The US wants greater access to the EU market, particularly for poultry, fruit and vegetable exports, but officials say it has refused to offer the European side enough in return.

US ambassador Anthony Gardner contacted EU embassies last week to lament a lack of progress on the deal, a move one senior Commission official called "a diplomatic and tactical mistake".

The spat has set progress back ahead of a 14th round of talks in July. "It can't be a cost-free round for the US," said one senior EU official close to the talks. Negotiators, particularly on the US side, want to close a deal before US presidential elections in November.

But those close to the talks accept that the timeline is impossible. "Both sides feel that neither is moving," says Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, who doesn't see a deal on TTIP for years to come.

"It's a political drum they're beating more angrily on both sides of the Atlantic," she added. "We don't have a deal, we have discussions," she said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has called on the Irish government to block a new EU-Canada trade deal.

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The deal was finalised last year but needs the seal of approval of parliaments in the EU's 28 Member States.

Carthy says the deal will lead to a glut of genetically modified products on EU markets, threatening Irish farmers' livelihoods. He says opening public procurement markets to Canadian firms will threaten EU jobs, and questions the legality of a new system of investor courts to be brought in under the deal. He says the Canada agreement is "TTIP in disguise" and should be spiked before it becomes law.

Jury is out on whether the EU will pursue Ireland over water charges

A flood of conflicting information on water charges has been pouring in from Brussels this week.

Many in the EU are baffled by Irish people's reluctance to pay for what is an unarguably scarce resource, and would like to see water charges maintained.

EU rules say countries must bring in a "cost recovery" policy for water by 2010 that takes account of the environmental and supply costs and the idea that the "polluter pays".

In answer to a parliamentary question by Sinn Fein MEP Lynn Boylan (pictured), the Commission said a country is in breach of EU rules if it opts out of water charging when the "established practice" is to charge.

The response was checked by Commission lawyers and run by the private office of President Jean-Claude Juncker, as with all parliamentary replies, so one can assume it's an official position.

But the EU has not taken a position on Ireland's specific case, and it is still unclear whether it will pursue the government in court over the issue.

That is because what constitutes "established practice" is still up for debate. Independent MEP Marian Harkin put the question to the EU executive way back in 2010, after the then-government was warned by Brussels over its tardiness in submitting a river basin management plan, where countries set out their water conservation and flooding strategies.

Then-environment commissioner, Janez Potocnik, told Harkin that "established practice" meant the regime in place at the time the EU's water framework directive was adopted.

For Ireland, that means 2003, before water charges were even a twinkle in any minister's eye.

"I don't disagree with water charges," Harkin told this newspaper, "but I'd be concerned if the Commission followed Ireland for the full costs of water," she said. "We'd have anarchy."

Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness says the EU executive will be sensitive to the debate in Ireland, but not if the government moves to abolish charges altogether.

"They will be mindful of what's happening in Ireland, where we have a suspension, not an abolition - there is a major difference between these two verbs," she said.

French call for new crisis fund

French agriculture minister Stéphane Le Foll presented his view for the future of farming at an EU meeting in Amsterdam last week.

His suggestions include a new emergency fund for farmers, funded partly by CAP payments, that could be drawn down in the event of future crisis like the one that has hit dairy farmers this year.

“The minister is arguing for part of the direct aid paid to farmers to be put aside in good years to make up a reserve that can be mobilised during more difficult years,” the French agriculture ministry said in a statement. “This precautionary savings account would be implemented at farm level, in all farms,” the statement said. 

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