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Outcome of the Agri/Fisheries Council of 27-28 November 2002

European Commission - MEMO/02/273   29/11/2002

Other available languages: none

MEMO/02/273

Brussels, 28 November 2002

Outcome of the Agri/Fisheries Council of 27-28 November 2002

Food Safety

    GM-food and -feed proposal

    The Council reached political agreement on the proposed legislation to label all genetically modified feed and to extend the current labelling requirements for genetically modified food. Commissioner David Byrne welcomed this important achievement and said: "This new law further ensures consumer choice through labelling of GMO derived food and also provides the farmer with information. I feel strongly that our citizens need to be able to make this choice. But I would also like to say that I deplore scaremongering about GMOs: every GMO authorised in the EU has been evaluated for its safety by independent scientists and there are no known adverse effects on human health from eating GMOs".

    The Regulation as agreed today establishes a sound EU system to regulate the placing on the market and labelling of food and feed products derived from GMOs. It paves the way for the adoption of the traceability and labelling proposal in the Environment Council in December.

    Details in IP/02/1770.

    Hygiene package

    The hygiene package, one of the key elements of the recast of food legislation, is composed of five parts. The first four are proposed legislative acts: (Hygiene I): general hygiene of foodstuffs, (Hygiene II): hygiene of foodstuffs of animal origin, (Hygiene III): official controls on products of animal origin intended for human consumption, and (Hygiene IV): animal health rules for products of animal origin for human consumption. Part five (Hygiene V) is a Directive repealing the previously existing legislation.

    In June 2002, the Agriculture Council reached an agreement on Hygiene I. At this Council meeting, ministers had a political discussion on Hygiene II, for which political agreement is expected at the December Council, and the Presidency outlined the state of play of the discussions at Coreper level on Hygiene III. Discussions on this part of the package will continue under the Greek Presidency. Political agreement was reached on Hygiene IV without discussion (See under A points and IP/02/1766).

    BSE

    David Byrne updated the Council on the state of play of BSE in the European Union and related subjects. On the number of case he said "Most cases two thirds - were discovered in at risk animals, mainly fallen stock and emergency slaughters. The BSE incidence in this category was 1 per 1,000 animals tested.

    The tests in healthy animals uncovered 215 positives from 6.7 million animals tested, or 1 per 30,000". On the incidence he added, " statistics show overall incidence of BSE continues to decrease, while the average age of positive cases is increasing.

    This is encouraging and reflects the positive effect of the measures we have taken since 1996, and reinforced more recently". (BSE incidence and numbers are available on the internet at:

    http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/bse/index_en.html

    On the implementation of BSE measures in the Member States, the Food and Veterinary Office has recently finalised its 2001 overview report on BSE inspections in the Member States. Mr Byrne said: "The report recognises the considerable efforts made by Member States over the last year to implement all the new measures, which entered into force over a relatively short time-span. Nevertheless, some remaining weaknesses have been identified, in particular relating to the organisation of feed controls. I would ask Member States to focus greater efforts in this area. It is clear that any slippage here would set back our efforts to eradicate BSE and be very damaging to consumer confidence". The report is available on the Internet at:  http://europa.eu.int/comm/food/fs/inspections/special_reports/index_en.html

    On the lifting of the French ban on British beef he stated: ", I am pleased to note that France has lifted its unilateral ban on the import of DBES beef from Britain, in response to the judgment of the European Court of Justice. I hope that this move will lead to the resumption of trading opportunities in the normal way.

    The Scientific Steering Committee recently reviewed its previous opinion on TSE infectivity distribution in ruminant tissues, recommending that tonsils of bovine animals of any age should be considered as specified risk material. Furthermore, the Committee highlighted the need to re-examine the process under which bovine head-meat is harvested. In the light of this opinion the Commission intends to propose some modifications to the rules on specified risk material in the near future. In addition, the Scientific Steering Committee is continuing its work on establishing the Geographical BSE risk of countries, which will be used as a basis for a final classification of countries according to their BSE status.

    A-points (points adopted without discussion)

      Monitoring and control of zoonoses

      The Council reached political agreement on two legislative proposals designed to cut the incidence of food-borne diseases in the European Union. The proposals provide for a thorough revision of current EU legislation and are designed to improve protective measures against "zoonoses", diseases transmissible between animals and humans. Zoonoses include diseases that lead to numerous sick days, needless deaths and large public health costs in the EU every year like salmonella, campylobacter, listeria and toxin producing E.coli. (See IP/02/1764).

      The proposals will now go back to the European Parliament for a second reading.

      Organisms harmful to plants and plant products

      The Council adopted amendments to Directive 2000/29/EC, which deals with protective measures against the introduction and spread of organisms harmful to plants or plant products in the European Union. The amended Directive improves the transparency of import procedures for plants and plant products and further adjusts the EU Plant Health regime to the conditions of the internal market, responding to risks resulting from increased trade. (See IP/02/1765).

      The amended Directive will enter into force on the day of its publication in the Official Journal, and requires Member States to adopt and publish the provisions necessary to comply with it before 1 January 2005.

      Animal health rules (Hygiene IV)

      Political agreement was reached on the proposed animal health rules for the production, processing, distribution and introduction into the European Union of products of animal origin intended for human consumption (The so called "Hygiene IV"). The proposed Directive lays down animal health rules for products of animal origin such as fresh meat, meat products, poultry, rabbit, game meat, milk and milk products. The total prohibition on introducing products not conforming to EU animal health requirements will mean that transit and storage of such goods will no longer be allowed once the Directive is implemented by Member States. However, transhipment, i.e. direct movements between planes or ships in the same airport or port, may continue to be allowed by Member States. (See IP/02/1766).

      The proposal does not need to go back to the European Parliament since it has already given its advice on the proposal in 2002 in accordance with Article 37, which requires consultation of the Parliament. The Directive will enter into force on the 1 January 2005 after the formal adoption of the Council.

    Other business

      Animal welfare standards in third countries

      David Byrne presented the Commission's Communication on animal welfare legislation on farmed animals in third countries and the consequent implications for the EU. It animal welfare standards in the European Union with standards in third country trading partners. The Report analyses ways to avoid potential competitive disadvantages and subsequent deterioration in animal welfare standards as a result of disparities in measures. (See IP/02/1697).

      Dogs and cats used for the production of fur

      The Swedish delegation, supported by different Member States, urged the Commission to elaborate a proposal for EU legislation to ban the import of dog and cat fur. The motivation for a ban on the trade in cat and dog furs is the inappropriate animal welfare conditions under which such furs are produced in third countries.

      M. Byrne said the EU-Treaty does not provide a suitable legal base for a ban on fur trade in the EU. "Member States are free to take measures at national level" he said.

Agriculture

    CAP mid-term review

    The Council held an orientation debate on de-coupling and modulation. "We are convinced that the new long-term budgetary for agricultural expenditure framework decided at the Brussels Summit must be linked as soon as possible with a clear perspective for the future development of the Common Agricultural Policy. Without such certainty, the sector cannot plan for the future. The needs and challenges identified in the MTR remain unchanged. It is more necessary than ever to make good use of the resources available to preserve the diversity of farming systems spread throughout Europe and promote the sustainable, quality oriented agriculture that citizens and consumers want. Today I am convinced more than ever, that there is a broad consensus about the objectives of the mid-term review. We need more resources for rural development, we need to give our farmers a simpler, more flexible, more efficient system of income support. Of course, there are differences in views about how and when these objectives should be achieved.", Fischler said.

    Turning to the questions of modulation and decoupling, Fischler stressed "Here I think we have the greatest consensus as regards our objective, that is to say to strengthen the second pillar, rural development. And as I have already said, this seems, at least to some extent, to have been confirmed by the Brussels summit. On decoupling, which are very much a central element of the Mid-Term Review. We have proposed a more market oriented, sustainable agriculture by completing the shift of our support from product to producer. This involves the introduction of a decoupled system of single farm payments. Decoupled payments will be income-neutral, and will be based on historical reference periods. There has been much misunderstanding about decoupling Under decoupling, farmers will no longer have to produce just for subsidies, or indeed at a loss.

    There is nothing more perverse than forcing farmers, particularly in the livestock sector to produce too many animals in order to fulfil all their premia rights. This for me is not sustainable agriculture. I sometimes hear the strange argument that we want to pay farmers for doing nothing. The opposite is true. Honestly, who would seriously claim that keeping land in good order, by keeping animals, managing land or cutting hay, and meeting the standards we ask from the farmers is doing nothing?"

    He also underlined the advantages of a decoupled payment in the WTO "Our new single farm income payment would be green box compatible. It is not as if we enter the discussion on modalities with no ambitions. We not only have goals as regards the three pillars, we also want to integrate non-trade concerns better into multilateral agreements. As negotiators acting on behalf of the European Union we need to maximise our negotiating capital. If we can give a bit more, we can get a bit more. Hence our proposals for decoupling could be crucial in getting the best deal for the European model of agriculture."

    Greek state aid for cotton

    The Commission took note of the request of the Greek government to the Council to grant state aid to Greek cotton producers. Fischler stated that the Commission was not convinced by the arguments put forward by the Greek government to justify this national aid. The Council agreed to authorise these state aids. The Commission reserves its right to examine the issue further and if appropriate take action.

    Women in rural areas

    The Commissioner welcomed that Italy raised the question of female employment on agriculture and rural areas. "It goes without saying that women should have unrestrticted and non discriminatory access to jobs. I welcome the Italian initiative to women when it comes down to support under the young farmers scheme. However, also the economic viability of the holding must be taken into account.", Fischler said.

Fisheries

After a day of "trilateral" consultations between the Commission, the Presidency and each of the Member States, the Fisheries Council met in full session on 28 November in Brussels. The aim of the trilateral consultations was to clarify the position of Member States on the main outstanding political issues relating the proposals on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in order to prepare for the decisions to be taken by the Council before the end of the year.

The Commission's ideas for reinforcing the proposed recovery plan for cod stocks in danger of collapse were also discussed during the first-day consultations.

Commenting on the consultations with Member States, Franz Fischler, Commissioner responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries, said that all of them had stated that they very much wanted a conclusion at the December Council. "However, after the bilaterals, I would say that we have a long way to go. A number of Member States seem to think that we have loads of time left to talk and avoid issues but this is certainly not the case. All of us will have to show flexibility as there can be no progress without it. Without flexibility, it will be very tough to get agreement." .

Mr Fischler warned, however, that while the Commission was determined to be constructive, it was not prepared to jeopardise the principles of the reform proposals. He wanted real change, not a "window-dressing" exercise which would not achieve the reform necessary to prevent the kind of situation that we have today with our cod stocks, he stressed.

    Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)

      Proposals for Council Regulations on:

      • conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources

      • emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels

      • Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (modifying Regulation (CE) 2792/1999)

      During the trilateral consultations, Fisheries Ministers presented their country's main priorities in relation to the CFP reform proposals issued by the Commission last May. Areas covered included the measures to be used within multi-annual management plans and recovery plans including fishing effort limitations; possible outcomes regarding the proposed discontinuation of public aid for the renewal and modernisation of the fleet while keeping in mind the need to reduce capacity; a political commitment as well as concrete measures to substantially improve control and enforcement; the need for a substantial voluntary scrapping scheme, given the situation of some commercially important fish stocks. Other questions, such as access to waters and resources, the specificity of outermost regions and the role of Regional Advisory Councils were also discussed during the consultations.

      Discussions will continue at the technical level and negotiations will resume with a view to reaching a decision on the CFP reform package at the next Council meeting on 16-19 December 2002.

      Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks

      The Commission presented its ideas on how to tackle the crisis facing some important cod stocks in EU waters which, according to scientific advice, are on the verge of collapse. It called for a strengthening of the recovery plan that it presented a year ago and that has not yet been adopted by the Council. The aim is to protect the concerned stocks while allowing some fishing activity for cod and other associated stocks to continue. As a moratorium would cause severe hardship to many fishing communities in a number of EU regions, the Commission looked at possible alternative measures, on the basis of an analysis undertaken, at its request, by the scientific and technical committee (STECF).

      The envisaged adjustments to the proposed recovery plan, include (cfr IP/02/1753):

      • substantial reductions in the levels of mortality due to fishing (-80%) not only for cod stocks but also for stocks associated with cod, such as haddock, whiting (-75 %), plaice (-40 %), sole (-30 %), as well as smaller reductions for Nephrops (-5 %), and for industrial fisheries (-10%). Such cuts would translate into substantial reductions in TACs, though not necessarily at the same levels;

      • a simplified fishing effort limitation scheme involving a standard reduction in fishing effort to the fleets fishing for stocks for which fishing mortality has to be reduced;

      • strengthened control and enforcement measures;

      • improved technical measures to increase the selectivity of fishing gear.

      "The credibility of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in the eyes of the public will largely depend on the way we tackle the cod crisis.", Commissioner Fischler stressed. He underlined that the adjustments proposed by the Commission aimed to act on the scientific advice while taking into consideration the needs of fishing communities.

      The Council will discuss the adapted proposal with a view to making a decision at its December meeting.

      Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the EU fishing industry   Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament

      The Commission presented to the Council its proposal for an Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the EU fishing industry. This action plan, prepared after consultations with the Member States, sets out measures which Member States could implement to alleviate the short-term consequences of the fishing effort limitations proposed in the context of the CFP reform of the CFP. The plan includes an assessment of the likely socio-economic impact of fishing effort limitations, a review of available funds to alleviate these consequences within the current FIFG as well as of additional means which could become available as a result of the reform of the CFP and of the reprogramming of Structural Funds. It also includes an analysis of further options for the longer term.

      The Commissioner reminded the Council that the catching sector had been reduced by an average of 8,000 jobs, every year over the past 10 years, mainly as a result of overfishing. There is therefore a clear need for reducing fishing effort and restructure the fleet to restore its long-term profitability. The potential consequences of this restructuring in terms of job losses will depend on the scope and range of the multi-annual management plans which will be put in place as well as on the way national authorities will distribute the agreed reductions in fishing effort between temporary tie-ups and permanent withdrawals of fishing vessels.

      Up to € 611 million could be available under the FIFG for reducing fleet capacity and for social measures as a result of the discontinuation, as of 2003, of aid to renew and modernise the fleet and to transfer fishing vessels to third countries, if the proposed CFP reform package is adopted. Reprogramming of FIFG and of the other structural funds' interventions could be considered. Member States could review their national programmes to channel more aid to socio-economic measures, in particular to fisheries dependent areas. (cfr. IP/02/1619)

      Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish   Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament

      The Council welcomed the Commission proposal for a Community Action Plan to reduce discards of fish. The aim of this Plan is to tackle the main causes of discarding unwanted fish overboard. This practice concerns large quantities of fish, mainly immature fish which are caught and thrown back dead into the sea before they have had a chance to grow and help replenish stocks. For example, according to the few available estimates, some 50,000 to 100,000 tonnes of haddock were discarded each year between 1976 and 1998 in the North Sea, representing between 20% and 50 % by weight and between 20 % and 60 % by number of the total catch.

      The Commission's document provides a general overview of the scope and of the reasons for discarding. It sets out the biological and economic consequences of this practice and, most importantly, it looks at ways of reducing the quantities discarded. The problem of discards, particularly in mixed fisheries persists despite various attempts in different parts of the world to alleviate the problem.

      The measures proposed aim to prevent catches of unwanted fish, in particular immature fish and to remove incentives for discarding. The Commission proposes reducing fishing effort, strengthening technical measures, establishing a discard ban, departing from fishing grounds when high quantities of small fish are caught, making better use of low-value fish and putting in place specific pilot projects. (cfr. IP/02/1738)

    Other topics

      International Conference on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU)   Santiago de Compostela, 25-26 November 2002

      The Council took note of the report by the Spanish Minister on the international conference on IUU and welcomed the conclusions adopted by the participants, who included representatives of 43 States, Regional Fisheries Organisations, International organisations and NGOs. Commissioner Fischler congratulated the Spanish authorities for this initiative.

      The conclusions of the conference reflected the approach adopted in the Community Action Plan to combat IUU as both indicated the urgent need to take concrete measures at international level to eradicate IUU and to achieve sustainable fishing, Mr Fischler said. The Community Action Plan, presented by the Commission last May as part of the CFP reform package, proposed 15 measures to be taken at the levels of the EU, Regional Fisheries Organisations, other international organisation or in the context of relations with developing countries.

      The tanker "Prestige" shipwrecked off the coast of Spain

      The Council took note of the report by the Spanish Minister on the economic and environmental impact of the shipwrecking of the oil tanker "Prestige" off the coast of Galicia. Mr Fischler expressed the Commission's support for the populations concerned, particularly for fishermen and shellfish farmers. Furthermore, Commissioner Fischler indicated that EU funding was available under the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG).

      Eligible measures include the co-financing of aid to fishermen and vessel owners for the temporary suspension of fishing activities. Aquaculture and shellfish production can also be allocated support for collective operations to compensate, for instance, damage to communal aquaculture facilities or the re-establishment of damaged facilities.

      Other measures could be envisaged on the basis of more detailed information to be provided by the Spanish authorities on the scale of the damage caused to the fishing communities.


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