Farm Ireland

Monday 23 October 2017

Independent view: Ciolos wins a reprieve over Mercosur deal

Declan O’Brien

There was good news for Irish farmers on Mercosur this week with Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos confirming that progress on a deal with the South American trade bloc had been delayed until the end of the year.

The commissioner was speaking to journalists during a tour to his home region of Transylvania in Romania. He briefed a number of European and agriculture correspondents on his CAP reform priorities and other related topics.

While the commission-organised trip concentrated on issues of policy, it also afforded interesting glimpses of Ciolos the man.

Ciolos said his own interest in farming was honed as a child when he spent every school holiday from the age of six to 18 working on his grandfather's farm.

He said that working the land with his grandfather was "something natural" for him and not something he had to do.

He went on to study agronomy in the university city of Cluj before further studies in the French cities of Rennes and Montpellier.

During his studies in Cluj he continued his interest in growing vegetables, setting up a greenhouse with a specialised irrigation system.

Working with crops and animals gave farmers a greater "sensitivity to living things", he said.

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Ciolos served a term as Romania's agriculture minister, before taking the reins at the Commission's agriculture wing, DG Agri.

It is clear from speaking with Romanian officials that Ciolos's securing of the powerful agriculture portfolio has been viewed as a major coup and an honour for the country.

But locals doubted that this pride would manifest itself in pressure on him to deliver for his home farmers.

However, Ciolos reiterated that a more equitable share-out of EU farm funds was essential and a policy that had the understanding and support of Europe's taxpayers was vital.

Since his appointment, commentators have questioned whether Ciolos has the toughness or steel of his predecessors, Marianne Fischer Boel and Franz Fischler. With this in mind, a suggestion over the weekend that he would match his CAP reform package to the EU budget proposals will cause some concern.

However, to date, he has played the Mercosur talks issue well. Much as Ireland would like it, a straight 'no' to such negotiations would not be politically acceptable in Brussels.

Ciolos has skilfully brokered alliances within the Member States and European parliament on this issue and has won a temporary reprieve for farmers. But getting a positive outcome on CAP funding and reform will be even tougher.

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