Luxembourg/Bruxelles, le 16 octobre 2002
Outcome of the Agri/Fisheries Council of October
Part 1 : Agriculture
Proposal on monitoring and control of zoonoses
The Council failed to reach political agreement on the proposed stricter monitoring and control of food-borne diseases (zoonoses) caused by pathogens like salmonella, listeria or e-coli. Commissioner Byrne reiterated that the number of reported food-borne infections in humans across the European Union remains far too high. Salmonella, alone, infects over 160,000 individuals annually in the Union. It is likely the true rate of infection is much higher, as many cases go unreported. The Scientific Committee on Veterinary Measures relating to Public Health has stated that in 5% of salmonella cases serious consequences can occur, including reactive arthritis. Serious complications arise in a minority of cases, leading to the deaths of some 200 of our fellow citizens each year. Moreover, we have estimated the annual cost of food-borne salmonella at up to € 2.8 billion per year.
The need for more effective and stringent measures against food-borne zoonoses at Community level was highlighted by the majority of delegations who also agreed on the compromise package of the Danish Presidency. It foresaw as proposed by the Commission the step by step introduction of control measures (testing of flocks of poultry and pig herds) on several salmonella stereotypes against certain pre-set targets. The principle of Community co-financing up to 50% was part of the package but within the overall budget framework.
Commissioner Byrne regretted the Presidency package not be supported by a minority of Member States. Byrne said: "It is essential that such an important public health measure should not become bogged down over wrangles over who will pay." He expressed the hope that such claims for Community financial support would not betray an underlying resistance to the proposed approach. He hoped that discussions in the meantime could enable a final agreement at the November Council.
Debate on GM-food and -feed proposal
The Council had a further orientation debate on the GM food/feed proposal. Delegations focused on answering the three questions asked by the Presidency:
Commissioner Byrne commented on the debate: "Considerable progress has been made on this important and very difficult dossier since the beginning of July. There are still a number of technical and detailed questions outstanding - but I remain confident that most, if not all of these, can be resolved under the able stewardship of the Danish Presidency. The EU is well advanced on building a legal framework addressing consumer demands and concerns around GMOs. Based on this solid framework we can further address the question of pending applications of GMOs which have been assessed by our scientists of not posing a danger to public health."
The Presidency expressed its hope to achieve a common position on the proposed law at the next Council.
The Council held a policy debate on the Commission proposals on rural development, milk, rice and nuts.
In the mid-term review (MTR) communication the Commission has proposed to use an objective allocation key for the distribution of the new funding for the 2nd Pillar which will be generated by the application of dynamic modulation. The allocation key will based on agricultural area, agricultural employment and a prosperity criterion. "The prosperity criterion reinforces the contribution of the EU's rural development policy to the EU's overall economic and social cohesion policy. The Commission will provide more information about the exact key and the resulting allocation at a later stage.
"I agree that there is scope to simplify further the management of rural development programmes while respecting the need to ensure sound management of EU financial resources. As you are aware my services have already launched positive action in this sense. All the new rural development measures the Commission is proposing - the new Food Quality and Meeting Standards Chapters and the introduction of support for animal welfare are intended to better address concerns about food safety and quality, to help farmers to adapt to the introduction of demanding and to promote high standards of animal welfare.", Fischler stressed. The Commissioner announced concrete simplification proposals in short time.
On the "meeting standards measure" Fischler underlined that it would offer the possibility to pay temporary and digressive aid to farmers to help them implement demanding standards in the fields of environment, food safety, animal welfare and occupational safety, which will become in time part of good farming practice or required minimum standards. "The introduction and respect of such standards can entail additional costs and obligations for farmers, and initially lead to loss of income. The meeting standards measure is therefore a pragmatic measure: it aims to encourage a more rapid and widespread adoption of such standards which is in the interest both of the agricultural sector and society at large. It should be emphasised that the measure should cover implementation of demanding standards only. It is not intended for cases where a new standard entails only marginal or no change in agricultural practice, or for standards which do not imply additional costs for the farmer.
In no case however would aid be payable where the non-application of standards is due to the non-respect by an individual farmer of standards already incorporated in national legislation."
In order to improve the contribution of the CAP to better meet society's expectations concerning a modern, high quality agriculture, the Commission proposes to establish a EU wide system of farm auditing. As a first step, the system would be mandatory as for producers receiving more than EUR 5000 per year in direct payments. Support for farm audits would be available under rural development. "Farm audits involve a structured and regular stocktaking and accounting of all material flows and processes at enterprise level being relevant for the environment, food safety, animal welfare, and occupational safety. Good record-keeping would be checked by an outside expert with a view to ensuring both that accounts are properly established and that they correspond to the reality of what is happening on a farm. The purpose of farm audits is neither to introduce new standards nor to establish another control system. The purpose is be to establish a management instrument that helps farmers to become aware of the implications of his production activities on the environment, food safety, animal welfare, and occupational safety. Thus farm audits would enable farmers to develop and adopt management practices in line with statutory requirements.", he said.
Responding to the Presidency question whether the status quo was a sustainable scenario Fischler responded "Some Member States, looking at our international competitive position, are reflecting on the necessity to further align internal prices for milk and milk products to international levels. It should not be forgotten that such price decreases would have a significant budget impact due to necessary compensations. We are currently faced with three groups of Member States, with no clear-cut majority for one or the other option.", he explained.
"Rice is an important product in certain regions of the EU. There is often no real alternative to rice production and on top of this the paddy fields play an important environmental role especially by providing a substitution for natural wetlands and thus creating an important habitat for birds. It is clear that the full implementation of the Everything But Arms decision will make the present market organisation for rice completely unsustainable. The prospect of rice imports without any border protection from countries with a potential to exceed EU rice consumption many times requires a profound rethink of the market organisation. Otherwise we could end up with intervention stocks of 4 million tonnes of paddy rice in 2009/10. We have two choices. Either give up EU rice production or to make EU rice production competitive with imported rice. The Commission has therefore opted for a proposal, which is designed to bring EU rice prices close to world market levels and make rice production far more market oriented. This involves a 50% reduction in present support prices. We propose that producers be compensated in line with the compensation rate granted for cereals. This amount will partly be granted as a de-coupled aid and partly as a crop specific aid for rice. The level of the crop specific aid level of 75 EUR /t has been chosen in order to ensure that the environmental benefits of rice production will continue. The aid will be converted into an aid per hectare via the historical yields underlying the 1995-rice reform", the Commissioner declared.
This proposal is being put forward as a market measure, while containing a strong "rural development" aspect. "As far as the budget is concerned, the figures proposed reflect the will to ensure budget neutrality with the current EU expenditure on improvement plans: we spent 970 Mio EUR in 12 years. It is foreseen to cover a large part of the commercially productive area, which has been estimated at 800 000 ha. This explains the level of 100 EUR /ha. The proposed co-financing is limited and optional. It gives a degree of targeted support for competitive production while ensuring the continuation of sustainable production in non-competitive areas.", Fischler underlined.
During lunch, the Council discussed the WTO talks on agriculture. Mr Fischler stressed that the negotiations now entered a critical phase. "The essentials of the negotiations need to be agreed within the next few months. Time is therefore now of the essence. In this respect the recent U.S. proposal table in Geneva is very far from helpful. This is because on both market access and domestic support, it proposes radically new approaches to the tried and tested ones used in the Uruguay Round. It will also have the effect of placing the burden of reform on others, with very little effort being required of the U.S. I continue to believe that the UR approach as a basis for further disciplines on all three pillars, while addressing non-trade concerns and the specific needs of the more vulnerable developing countries, is the right approach to pursue in these negotiations.", he said.
Change of EU regime for cereal imports
The Commissioner declared that the Commission was currently actively engaged in discussions with the EU's trading partners to change the current import regime for cereals. "We do not want to restrict imports from our traditional suppliers. We are working hard to get an agreed solution with the countries having negotiation rights. But it should also be clear that the EU has the right to introduce import quotas according to the GATT rules."
Greek state aid for cotton
The Commission took note of the request of the Greek government to the Council to pay state aid for cotton producers. "As to the procedure, I would like to point out that Greece has not notified the state aid in question to the Commission. However, the obligation to do so is clearly spelt out in Article 88 paragraph 3 of the Treaty. This provision says that any plan to grant or alter aid has to be notified to the Commission. As to substance, I would like to state that the Commission is not convinced by the arguments made to prove the exceptional situation which supposedly justifies the aid.", Fischler declared. The council will come back on this matter in November.
Olive oil promotion
The Commissioner informed the Council on the state of affairs with regard to the export promotion of olive oil and on the question of a prolongation of the international agreement of the Olive Oil Council (COI). "Back in March 2001 we had agreed on the conditions with COI, under which the export promotion would continue, which has mainly been financed by our important voluntary contributions. Unfortunately COI did not respect the conditions in the tendering procedure for selecting the operator to continue the promotion activities.
We therefore had to communicate to COI that the tender was thereby cancelled. Further we have to assure ourselves that the financial management of COI is in accordance with our expectations. As a consequence, we will provide COI with the precise terms and conditions, which the tendering procedure must respect, which will allow us hopefully to give a new start to the promotion activities in 2003. With regard to the financial management, we have now in agreement with COI and with the participation of Algeria and Tunisia initiated an audit of the organisation, which is in process and where the results should be available in the near future. With regard to the prolongation of the agreement, we are in the process of preparing the necessary mandate to the Council, which will allow the EU to give its approval of an extension of the agreement for another two years, which otherwise runs out at the end of this year.", he said.
World Summit on Sustainable Development
The Council adopted conclusions on the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.
Part 2 : Fisheries
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)
Proposal for Council Regulations on conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources
The Council resumed its policy debate on the Commission proposals on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The discussion focussed on three aspects : control and enforcement, access to waters and resources and good governance. A number of specific questions had been identified by the Presidency in order to clarify the positions of the Member States on key issues and prepare the ground for agreement.
"This policy debate has shown that there is a general willingness for the reform of the CFP to be adopted by the end of the year. This is very encouraging and, although a lot of work remains to be done, I am confident that decisions can be reached so that the new CFP can be in place in the new year", Franz Fischler, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said.
Bilateral talks will be held with all Member States in November in order to identify outstanding technical, legal or organisational issues, which could be dealt with at the expert level, and those which need to be addressed at the political level. The latter will be discussed at the next Council meeting on 27 November.
In the course of the debate, Commissioner Fischler stressed the need to include in the reform a comprehensive chapter on monitoring and enforcement, to make control of fisheries activities more effective and uniform and to ensure that appropriate and comparable sanctions are applied to infringements of the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. "It is important for the credibility and effectiveness of the CFP that the rules agreed by the Council be applied correctly and in an equal manner across the EU and on EU vessels in international waters.", he said.
Discussions included the following points: sanctions for infringements to fisheries regulations, the powers of Community fisheries inspectors, the possibility for joint inspections to be carried out in the waters of Member States and in international waters, the extension of the use of satellite vessel monitoring systems and the use of electronic logbooks and other new technologies; on access to waters and resources: possible reviews of current regimes of access to waters, the possibility of setting up specific access conditions for outermost regions, possible review of the current regime for allocation of resources and the need to allocate stocks currently unregulated. Finally, in the area of good governance, the following points were discussed: the composition and role of the proposed Regional Advisory Councils (RACs), the role of public authorities in their work and the interaction between RACs and existing advisory committees.
Action Plan for the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean under the Common Fisheries Policy
Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament
The Commission presented to Council its proposal for an Action Plan on fisheries management in the Mediterranean as part of the reform the Common Fisheries Policy.
The proposed Action Plan aims to establish appropriate management measures, taking into account the specific characteristics of the Mediterranean, including the small size of most vessels, narrowness of continental shelves, diversity of the species caught.
Moreover, as a very large part of the Mediterranean Sea consists of international waters, very few management and control measures are currently applied to the detriment of sustainability of fisheries in the area. The proposed Action Plan includes fundamental innovations aiming to ensure sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean.
Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks
The Council held a policy debate on possible adjustments to the Commission proposal on recovery measures for cod and hake stocks presented by the Commission in December 2001. The proposed adjustments aim to take into account new scientific data. They concern the following aspects:
"Recovery plans will be concrete proof of our real will to implement the reform of the CFP", Commissioner Fischler underlined. "The value of this reform will be measured on the basis of how well we are able to remedy situations such as that of our cod stocks", he added. He also stressed that the Commission proposals on multi-annual plans provided for conservation measures adapted to the situation of each stock based on sound scientific advice. "In case of stocks in danger of collapse, we cannot afford to take only some measures but instead must use all conservation and management tools at our disposal or face dire consequences", he warned.
For cod stocks, changes to the proposed upper and lower limits on yearly variation of TACs (i.e. 30% instead of 50 %) could also be considered. For both cod and hake stocks, a change in approach for limitation and control of fishing effort is also envisaged (based on the fishing mortality generated by each vessel on each stock, instead of on an average for all recovery stocks taken together).