Brussels briefing: Dutch up the ante on CAP negotiations

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
Luke 'Ming' Flanagan
European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan

Sarah Collins

The future of food is on the menu for Tuesday's meeting of EU agriculture ministers in Amsterdam.

The meeting is an informal one, giving ministers an opportunity to escape day-to-day EU business and focus on the bigger picture.

For the Dutch, who hold the EU's rotating presidency until the end of June, the big question is what the Common Agricultural Policy should look like after 2020.

"Should the CAP be broadened to a Common Agriculture and Food Policy," the Dutch presidency asks in an 11-page paper to be tabled at the meeting, noting that farmers are becoming less powerful players in the food chain.

"Challenges such as climate policy and food waste demand efforts from all the parties in the [food] chain," the paper states.

"The legitimacy of a policy aimed at the primary producer thus becomes ever less self-explanatory."

The paper also questions whether CAP funds should be more closely linked to the use of new technologies and climate change and if the CAP should target minimum prices for farmers. It also questions if and how EU money can help tackle societal challenges and support poorer countries outside the bloc.

France has come up with its own ideas on the matter, which it intends to table in a separate paper at the meeting.

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Resilience

It focuses, officials say, on improving the competitiveness and environmental sustainability of farming and the resilience of the sector to future crises.

The debate comes at a sensitive time for the UK, which will be on its guard ahead of the June 23 referendum on whether or not to quit the EU.

The CAP is beginning to garner more attention leading up to the referendum, with EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan touring UK regions last week to set out his case.

Leave campaigners in Britain have seized on the CAP's over-complicated rules and inflated budget, which continues to make up more than 30pc of the EU's total budget, while the National Farmers' Union has come down on the Remain side, though its members are still divided.

Big Phil and Ming Flanagan on collision course over dairy crisis

In other food-related news, angst over the EU's dairy sector continues.

MEPs slammed the Commission for its handling of the dairy crisis during a heated debate in Brussels this week, calling for an EU-wide cap on milk production, fairer retail prices and speedier market intervention.

Socialist MEPs went one further, suggesting an emergency EU farmers' fund.

But Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said farmers had not even used up the additional EU money they got last September, with €123m out of a €280m pot still to be spent before an end of June deadline.

He said farmers "must take their responsibility" for the dairy supply glut, though he offered to triple the ceiling for public intervention in the market to 350,000 tonnes from 109,000t this time last year.

Irish MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan said the EU should stop blaming farmers for the crisis.

"If you want to blame someone, go after the supermarkets, who are making an absolute killing out of this, go after the processors," he said.

"It's time the people who got up early and did the work got the money, and not people like you," he said to the commissioner.

Milk production in the EU is up 7.2pc while prices are down 11pc following the end of milk quotas last year, Russia's embargo on EU food and a global glut in dairy production.

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