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MEMO/07/134

Brussels, 13 April 2007

Preparation Agriculture/Fisheries Council of April 2007

The Agriculture & Fisheries Council will meet in Luxembourg on Monday 16 (starting at 10 a.m.) and Tuesday 17 April, under the Presidency of Mr Horst Seehofer, Federal Minister for Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection of Germany.

Commissioners Mariann Fischer Boel and Joe Borg will attend the Council meeting for their respective points. Markos Kyprianou will not be at the Council meeting.

Monday morning's session will start with fisheries before turning to the agriculture points which are expected to be concluded by lunch time. Council will return to the fisheries items in the afternoon.

On Tuesday, the President of the Council invites the Ministers for Fisheries to an informal discussion and luncheon at which Commissioner Borg will give information on the state of play with regard to the Green Paper on a future Maritime Strategy. Commissioner Borg will also open a discussion on Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fisheries and destructive fishing practices.

A press conference is scheduled at lunch time with Commissioner Fischer Boel and at the end of the day's proceedings (with Commissioner Borg) on Monday.

The points on the agenda for Monday are:

Fisheries

Recovery of the stock of European eel

The Council will discuss the Commission's proposal for a Council Regulation establishing measures for the recovery of the highly-depleted European eel stock, with a view to reaching political agreement. Under this proposal, tabled in October 2005 by the Commission (IP/05/1233), in response to the Council's request, the Member States would set up national plans to ensure the escape of 40% of the quantity of adult eels which would migrate from rivers on their territories towards marine spawning grounds, in the absence of the impacts of fishing and other human activities. Member States would be responsible for devising their own management plan, which would be subject to review by the Commission's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) before being approved by the Commission itself.

The current state of the European eel stock requires urgent action, as recent recruitment levels have been as low as 1% of historic levels. The Commission's proposal has been the subject of extensive discussion with the Member States since it was adopted 18 months ago.

These discussions have focused on: measures to promote the use of juvenile (glass) eel for restocking European river systems, rather than sale abroad; the introduction, control and enforcement of international trade restrictions; timing for the adoption of management plans; the reference period to be used when calculating effort reductions; whether or not to include the Black Sea and associated river systems within the scope of the Regulation; and the possibility of aid from the European Fisheries Fund for some measures.

The Commission trusts that all outstanding issues can now be resolved by Council, so that work can begin on putting appropriate measures in place before the situation of the stock becomes irrecoverable.

Multi-annual plan for the cod stocks in the Baltic Sea and the fisheries exploiting those stocks

The Council will debate the Commission's proposal for a Council Regulation establishing a multi-annual plan for Baltic cod stocks, adopted in July last year (IP/06/1055). There are two distinct cod stocks in the Baltic Sea, both of which are overexploited. Scientists have long advised that the eastern cod fishery is in danger of collapse, while the western stock is in somewhat better condition. There is also a chronic problem with underreporting of the real catch level – by some 35-45% for the eastern stock, according to estimates from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). These figures were broadly confirmed by the Commission's inspectors during a series of missions in 2005 and 2006.

The aim of the multi-annual plan is to gradually but surely reduce fishing mortality on both stocks to levels which can provide stable fishing possibilities based on the highest sustainable yields in the long term. This will be achieved through a combination of stepwise reductions in fishing mortality and a progressive effort limitation scheme which is easy to control and enforce. Under the plan, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) would be set so as to reduce fishing mortality from current rates by 10% a year until the target rate for each stock is reached. At the same time, so as to provide some degree of stability for the industry, annual variations in TACs would be capped at 15% year-on-year. An effort limitation scheme would also be set up, based on the existing summer ban, with the aim of reducing fishing effort by 10% each year until the target fishing mortality rates has been achieved. Additional control measures are included in the proposal, which will be crucial to ensuring its success.

During the debate in Council in October 2006 on Baltic fishing opportunities for 2007, a compromise was reached by which TACs were reduced by 10% for the Eastern cod stock, and by 6% for the Western stock, on condition that the multi-annual plan proposed by the Commission was adopted before the end of June 2007. Should the plan not be adopted, the Commission is automatically authorised to implement an in-year TAC revision, reducing both TACs to 15% below the level of 2006.

Council will conduct an exchange of views on the basis of a questionnaire circulated by the Presidency, looking in particular at effort management and control provisions, and the specific needs of small artisanal fisheries, as well as at the overall objectives of the plan. The Commission hopes that this discussion will pave the way for political agreement on the proposal as soon as possible.

2006-2008 Action Plan for simplifying and improving the Common Fisheries Policy

The Commission will make a progress report to Council on its efforts to simplify and improve the Common Fisheries Policy over the last six months, in line with the December 2005 Action Plan (IP/05/1551). This Plan was the first such sectoral action plan to be adopted as part of the Commission-wide process aimed at encouraging better regulation. With the full support of stakeholders, the plan identified a series of priority initiatives concentrated on two key areas – conservation and control.

The Commission has agreed to present a progress review to Council twice a year, once in the course of each Presidency. Progress during the first six months of 2007 has been in line with the action plan. In addition to work on the priorities set down in the plan, a number of new initiatives to simplify the CFP have also been taken, for example in relation to the European Fisheries Fund, strengthening dialogue with stakeholders, and State aid.

Launching a debate on a Community approach towards eco-labelling schemes for fisheries products

In June 2005, the Commission adopted a Communication to the Council and the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee to launch a debate on a Community approach to eco-labelling schemes for fisheries products (IP/05/808). The Communication addresses eco-labelling as a means of integrating environmental protection concerns into the fisheries sector, and outlines three possible options for using market-based measures to promote sustainable fisheries.

Since its adoption, the Commission Communication has been the subject of a broad debate at the European Economic and Social Committee and the European Parliament, and with stakeholders. On the basis of a questionnaire to be put to Ministers, the Council will hold an exchange of views on the options discussed in the Communication, the principles underlying credible eco-labelling schemes and their role within the overall framework of the Common Fisheries Policy. This is expected to bring the debate to a conclusion and, should it be warranted, to prepare the ground for the elaboration of operational proposals in this field of activity.

Agriculture

Reform of the fruit and vegetables sector

On 24 January 2007, the European Commission proposed wide-ranging reforms to the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables to bring this sector into closer line with the rest of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy. The proposals aim to improve the competitiveness and market orientation of the F&V sector, reduce income fluctuations resulting from crises, increase consumption, enhance environmental protection and, where possible, simplify the rules and reduce the administrative burden. The reform would encourage more growers to join Producer Organisations; offer POs a wider range of tools for crisis management; integrate the F&V sector into the Single Payment Scheme; require a minimum level of spending on environmental measures; higher EU funding of organic production and promotional measures; and abolish export subsidies for F&V.
Press releases, the reform proposal and impact analysis, an info pack and further information on the reform are available on the internet at:

http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/capreform/fruitveg/index_en.htm

The Council will have a policy debate on the Commission proposal on the basis on a questionnaire from the German Presidency. The two questions put by the Presidency concern processing aid and crisis management.

Cross-compliance system

On 29 March, the European Commission proposed a raft of measures to improve and simplify the system of Cross Compliance, which formed a key element of the 2003 reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. The changes aim, among other things, to improve information, introduce a certain level of tolerance in minor cases of non-compliance, harmonise control rates and introduce advance notice of certain on-farm checks. The proposal does not water down the concept of Cross Compliance, but takes into account experience gained so far to make the system work better for the benefit of farmers and administrations. It forms the latest stage in the Commission's ongoing efforts to simplify the CAP.

Cross Compliance means that farmers have to respect a set of standards to avoid cuts in payments from the European Union. These cover protection of the environment, public, animal and plant health, animal welfare and the maintenance of the land in good agricultural and environmental condition. Cross Compliance has the dual aims of helping to make farming more sustainable and making the CAP more compatible with the expectations of consumers and taxpayers.

The report, press release and further information on cross-compliance are available on the internet at: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/simplification/crosscom/index_en.htm

Mariann Fischer Boel will present the report and proposed measures to the Council.

AOB

  • WTO – Doha Development Agenda Negotiations: State of play.

Food safety and animal health

AOB

  • Avian influenza: The Commission will provide a written update with developments on Avian Influenza in the EU and third countries.
  • Transport of animals to third countries (Requested by the Danish Delegation)

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