Brussels, 24 February 2004
6199/04 (Presse 47)
2564th Council meeting - Agriculture and Fisheries - Brussels, 24 February 2004
PRESIDENCY WORK PROGRAMME 6
Community Tariff quotas 6
ANIMAL WELFARE DURING TRANSPORT 7
FINANCIAL PERSPECTIVES 7
WEATHER CONDITIONS IN GREECE 8
ORGANIC FOOD AND FARMING 8
Other Business 9
Avian Influenza 9
Market situation in the cereals sector 10
Legal aspects of GMO coexistence with conventional and organic crops 11
Market situation in the milk sector 11
Implementing decoupled payments 12
ITEMS APPROVED WITHOUT DEBATE
The Governments of the Member States and the European Commission were represented as follows:
The Governments of the acceding States were represented as follows:
PRESIDENCY WORK PROGRAMME
The Irish Presidency briefly presented its programme for agriculture, food safety and fisheries. This programme is described in document 16177/03 (p. 18-19)2. Among other matters, Minister Joe WALSH mentioned the need to adapt Community legislation with a view to the arrival of the ten acceding countries, the continuing process of simplification and reform for Mediterranean products, food safety issues, animal welfare during transport and World Trade Organisation (WTO) issues. A public debate will be held at the Council in March on the Regional Advisory Councils in the fisheries sector and in June on the Action Plan for Organic Farming.
Community Tariff quotas
The Council adopted by qualified majority a proposal for a Council Regulation opening and providing for the management of autonomous Community tariff quotas for certain fishery products for the period 2004-2006 (5978/04). The Italian delegation voted against the proposal on the grounds that its request for a substantial increase (12 000 tons per year instead of the proposed 4 000 tons at a 6% reduced custom duty) in the annual amount of quotas proposed for tuna loins has not met support from other delegations. It had been argued that without this increase, the competitiveness of the Italian processing industry would be severely affected. The Spanish delegation abstained on the grounds that EU production was sufficient to meet the needs of the industry and that an EU-Mexico free-trade agreement already provided a substantial increase of imported fisheries products at preferential custom duties.
The Commission issued a statement regarding the monitoring of the situation on the Community market (5977/04 ADD 1). The Spanish delegation also issued a statement pointing out in particular the excessive quantity of tuna loin import quotas in the proposal.
After the Council adopted the Regulation on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products in 1999, it was agreed to open quotas for certain fishery products for a 3-year period in order to ensure that user industries could plan the supplies they needed, without disrupting the revenues of Community producers. The quota periods in the Regulation implementing that commitment expired on 31 December 2003. Low import duties are imposed on the products covered by these quotas. Most of these fishery products, such as tubes of squid, tuna loins or cod livers are used by the processing industry.
ANIMAL WELFARE DURING TRANSPORT
The Council took note of the progress report (6582/04) presented by the Presidency concerning the proposal for a Council Regulation on the protection of animals during transport and of the comments of the delegations, pending the opinion of the European Parliament, which is expected in March 2004. The Council also took note of the intention of the Presidency to make progress on this issue in order to reach a possible agreement at the Council meeting in April.
All delegations acknowledged the need to improve animal welfare during transport on the basis of sound scientific data. However several delegations reiterated their request to include a limitation of journey times in particular for slaughter animals, and of the number of transport cycles for some categories of animals. Several other delegations, whilst taking duly into account animal welfare concerns, also drew the attention of the Council to the need to analyse the situation of the meat industry as well as the transport industry carefully. Some of these delegations also stressed the need to take into account geographical specificity, especially for remote areas as regards transport costs.
Commissioner BYRNE restated the Commission's hope for an agreement on the proposal in April 2004.
This item was raised at the Council on 17/19 December (15975/03) and, since then, intensive work has been undertaken by the Working Party under the Irish Presidency.
The Council took note of information provided by Commissioner FISCHLER on the agricultural and fisheries budgetary framework for 2007/2013 with regard to the financial perspectives for an enlarged EU unveiled by the Commission on 10 February 2004 (6232/04).
In the structure of the new financial perspectives, agriculture, environment and fisheries expenditure now comes under the heading "2. Preservation and management of natural resources". Expenditures on agriculture, including market and direct aid support and rural development funding will rise in an enlarged EU-27 (2004 prices) from € 55,3 billion in 2007 to € 55,5 billion in 2013 in commitment appropriations. Expenditure on for the common fisheries policy will increase from € 1,03 billion in 2007 to € 1,13 billion in 2013. The share of agriculture in the total commitments of the EU-27 would drop from 45% in 2006 to 35% in 2013.
The Commission's proposals also effectively endorse the Council's decisions of 2003 to reform the Common Agriculture Policy and to set agriculture spending for market measures and direct payments until 2013 in accordance with the decision taken at the European Council (Brussels, October 2002). The future rural development policy, re-organised into one single instrument, will help to increase competitiveness in agriculture, and to enhance the environment and the diversity of the countryside. Additional funds will be released by shifting amounts from direct payments to farmers in order to reinforce rural development programmes.
WEATHER CONDITIONS IN GREECE
The Council took note of information provided by the Greek delegation on the recent and exceptionally bad weather conditions in Greece, which caused serious losses to the agricultural sector (6516/04).
Minister DRYS indicated that these losses had been caused in particular by snowfalls and frost, which considerably affected agriculture, in particular with regard to plant productions including citrus fruit, vegetables and fruit production, as well as livestock and aquaculture. The cost of these disastrous weather conditions not covered by insurance is estimated at € 250 million. He also reassured the Commission that the Greek authorities would present all data needed in order for the Commission to examine the Greek request as quickly as possible.
Commissioner FISCHLER thanked the Greek delegation for its detailed presentation and expressed his sympathy with Greek farmers. He emphasised that, due to the nature of the events affecting Greece, the Community would show the solidarity required. He indicated that the Greek delegation could present to his Institution a revised national programme in the framework of the rural development national schemes (2000-2006), with a redefinition of the priorities of agricultural operational programmes, in order to take account of the losses caused to farmers. He also pointed out that a financial amount within the existing programme had been set aside for natural catastrophes.
As regards national support to be provided by the Greek authorities to their farmers, Commissioner FISCHLER stressed that a request for national aid would be examined by his Institution with care.
ORGANIC FOOD AND FARMING
The Council took note of information (6483/04) provided by the Commission on the European Hearing on Organic Food and Farming held on 22 January 2004. The Council encouraged the Commission to finalise its internal deliberations in the form of a Commission communication in order to provide the basis for the start of an in-depth discussion on the European Action Plan (EAP) in 2004. The Irish Presidency recalled that a public debate on the EAP would be held in the Council in June 2004.
The aim of the Conference was to listen to the views of stakeholders and experts, and to hear from pilot initiatives, in order to finalise the European Action Plan to be presented in spring 2004 to promote organic food and farming.
The Action Plan will be transmitted by the Commission in the form of a Communication to the European Council and Parliament, including a list of possible actions to boost organic farming. The idea of a European Plan was promoted by the Agriculture Council Meeting on 19 June 2001. The Commission has discussed the issue in a special stakeholder group, in the Standing Committee on Organic Farming and in the Advisory Committee. In 2003 they also launched an Internet Consultation, which lasted 6 weeks. The Council was informed by the Commission in December 2002 of the preliminary results of a questionnaire sent to the Member States and stakeholders, on the basis of a working document (15619/02). Furthermore, the European Council on 17/19 December 2003 adopted some conclusions concerning the Strategy for a European action plan for organic food and farming, which welcomed the Commission's initiative and called for work to be done in order to draw up the action plan (15908/03).
The Council took note of updated written information provided by the Commission (6517/04 +ADD 1) on the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) situation in the Community and in third countries. The Portuguese delegation thanked the Commission for the revised statistics provided as regards the level of BSE in the Member States and recalled its application for a moderate BSE risk status in September 2003.
The Council took note of updated information provided by the Commission regarding the avian influenza outbreak in Asia and of the comments from certain Member States. The Council invited the Commission to monitor any new development of the disease carefully in order to take appropriate action.
Commissioner BYRNE reminded delegations that the highly pathogenic avian influenza in Asia was caused by a virus H5N1. He noted that this virus affected the human population as well as animals. He pointed out that until now the 95% mortality rate affected poultry and that 22 people had died in Thailand and Vietnam. He recalled that animal experts had been sent to Vietnam and that his Institution had made available € 1 million to support the fight against avian influenza in Vietnam under ongoing programmes. He expressed the wish to share experience and expertise with the Office International des Epizooties (OIE).
On 23 and 28 January 2004, the Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCFSAH) took the decision to suspend EU poultry imports from Thailand and imports of pet birds from South East Asia. These decisions were taken on the basis of the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) guidelines. The SCFSAH was briefed on the subject on 2 and 3 February 20043 and decided to extend these provisions until 15 August 2004 with a mid-term review in three months (May 2004).
= Avian Influenza in North America
The Council took note of information provided by the Commission regarding the recent outbreak of avian influenza of a highly pathogenic type in Texas (United States of America) caused by a virus H5N2.
Commissioner BYRNE informed the Council of the decision taken by his Institution to suspend immediately imports of live birds, eggs and poultry meat from the USA. This decision is applicable until 23 March 2004. In the meantime the situation will be reviewed at the meeting of the SCFSAH scheduled for 2 and 3 March.
The Council took note of the request from the Spanish delegation (6403/04) concerning the current cereals market situation.
The Spanish delegation, supported by the Portuguese delegation, urged for measures to be taken as quickly as possible following the reduced cereals harvest in the 2003/2004 marketing year in Spain and in the EU, and the soaring prices that stemmed from this harvest. These measures would entail the opening of tenders for quotas at a reduced rate of maize and sorghum imports and the putting on the market of bigger quantities of rye. These quantities of rye should then be sold at a rate close to the intervention price.
The Finnish delegation, supported by the Swedish delegation, drew the attention of the Council and the Commission to the existing surpluses of cereals in Northern Europe for the marketing year 2003-2004 especially as regards oats stocks. Consequently, these delegations underlined that the average market price for oat was below the intervention price and that a solution to these surpluses should be found within existing measures.
Commissioner FISCHLER, having acknowledged the shortfall of cereals during the 2003-2004 campaign in the EU, stressed that the high level of prices for cereals could also be noticed on the world market, and not only at EU level. He noted that there were already existing possibilities of sorghum and maize imports from the USA, and that the set-aside rate had been reduced from 10% to 5% in order to allow additional harvests of cereals. Furthermore, he restated that transport costs for cereals would not be borne by the Community. Consequently, he assured the delegations that his Institution would carefully examine the market situation in the cereal sector in the coming months.
The Council took note of information provided by the Italian delegation, supported by the Greek, Spanish, French, Luxembourg and Portuguese delegations4 on the importance of the protection of the use of certain traditional terms and indications for the wine producers of the European Union (6398/04) following the adoption of a set of amendments to the wine labelling Regulation by the Commission on 23 February 2004.
Commissioner FISCHLER recalled that the amendments introduced to the labelling Regulation (Regulation (EC) 753/2002) were considered necessary in order to enhance the conformity of EU legislation with the EU's international commitments under the TRIPs and GATT agreements. The amended Regulation merged into one single category the two categories of "traditional expressions" used on wine labels to designate quality wines. Third countries will be allowed to use these "traditional expressions" only if they comply with a set of strict conditions equivalent to those existing for Member States. Commissioner FISCHLER agreed that the Member States and the Commission would need to see in the future to what extent this change to the labelling Regulation would affect the wine market.
The Council took note of information provided by the German delegation about the state of play of national legislation regarding genetically modified organisms, in particular on the coexistence of genetically modified crops, conventional and organic crops and civil liability (6458/04).
The Danish, Italian, Luxembourg and Austrian delegations supported the initiative taken by the German delegation. These delegations emphasised the need for a coordinated approach on GMO legislation and shared information among the Member States, and of the importance of Community legislation. The Danish delegation also drew the attention of the Council and the Commission to its presentation on 19 February 2004 of a bill in its national Parliament concerning the coexistence issue. This bill would entail specific licences for GM producers and rules on distances between GM and conventional crops.
Commissioner FISCHLER insisted on the need to find practical solutions at national level in order to take into account national particularities, this level being considered as the most appropriate. He reminded delegations that, as regards civil liability, Member States should notify such legislative initiatives to the Commission in order to have a consistent and coordinated approach in the EU. Consequently, he mentioned that his Institution would look at the German draft legislation regarding GMOs with care and would soon inform the German authorities of its position.
The draft law presented by the German government on 11 February 2004 is to be examined by the two chambers of Parliament with a view to its adoption by the summer or autumn. The project provides for a register of land cultivated with GMO seed, which would be accessible to the public via the internet, accompanied by strict surveillance measures. A code of good practice on measures to safeguard coexistence with detailed rules for specific crop varieties would have to be established. The draft law also contains rules on the civil liability of GMO producers.
The Council took note of a request from the French delegation (6594/04) regarding the deterioration of the market situation in the milk sector and the commitment by the Commission to carry out a careful analysis of the milk market. The French delegation asked that the export refund system should be more simple and have fewer constraints for exporters. This delegation also asked for the possibility of adjusting the level of its quotas to the market if there were significant milk surpluses.
The French delegation was supported by the Belgian, German, Irish, Luxembourg and Austrian delegations as regards the deterioration of the market situation in the milk sector. These delegations and the Netherlands delegation asked for further discussions on this issue whilst some of them asked for an analysis of the market to be carried out by the Commission.
The Danish and United Kingdom delegations expressed their concerns as regards a possible reduction of national quotas. These delegations also stressed the need for a competitive market. They noted that compensation had been put in place by the CAP reform adopted in June 2003 for milk producers following the price cut on butter and skimmed milk powder.
Commissioner FISCHLER noted that exports currently took place without refunds and that the fluctuation of prices of dairy products was linked to external criteria. He pointed out that the situation of the milk market in the EU would be more stable after enlargement on 1 May 2004 and the price cuts on 1 July 2004. He emphasised the need for the market to become more competitive and suggested that an analysis of the sector be carried out in the future.
The Council took note of Commissioner FISCHLER's comments on his letter sent on 29 January 2004 to the 15 Ministers regarding the implementation of the CAP reform as regards decoupled payments and the aid regionalisation principle. Commissioner FISCHLER reminded delegations that an application for regional payments for farmers had to be justified with regard to the consequences for the average income of the farming population and the possible negative effect on land prices.
ITEMS APPROVED WITHOUT DEBATE
The Council adopted a Regulation amending Regulation (EEC) No 2092/91 on organic production of agricultural products and indications referring thereto in agricultural products and foodstuffs (6159/04 + 6214/04 ADD 1) by a qualified majority, with the Spanish delegation voting against.
The new Regulation provides for Community wide protection of certain terms used to indicate to consumers that a food or a feed product, or its ingredients, have been obtained in accordance with the organic production method laid down in that Regulation. The protection also applies to the usual derivatives or diminutives of these terms, whether they are used alone or combined and independently of which language is used. It also provides an inspection system for operators contracting out any of the activities of production, preparation, storing or imports from a third country. However operators who sell organic products directly to the final consumer may be granted an exemption from the obligation to notify the activity to the competent authority and to submit their undertakings to the established inspection system.
A joint statement by Council and Commission states that Annex III of the Regulation could be amended by 1 July 2005 in order to adapt it to the new inspection system. In fact the inspection should be run on the basis of a prior risk-analysis assessment.
The Spanish delegation issued a statement regarding the use of the wording "bio" as regards organic products.
Flax and Hemp
The Council unanimously adopted a Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 1673/2000 on the common organisation of the markets in flax and hemp grown for fibre (5355/04). The aim of the proposal is to extend until the 2005/2006 marketing year the possibility of derogating from the limit of 7,5% impurities and shives and of granting aid for short flax fibre and for hemp fibre containing a percentage of impurities and shives of less than 15% and 25% respectively.
The extension of the derogation from the 7.5% limit being proposed for two marketing years will give the new Member States on 1 May 2004- six of them producing long flax and short flax fibre and three producing hemp fibre - the same opportunity as the existing Member States to adjust to the important changes the sector is undergoing.
Plant Genetic Resources*
The Council adopted a Decision concerning the conclusion, on behalf of the European Community, of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (13735/03, 5870/04).
The objectives of this Treaty are the conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security.
The Treaty foresees several actions to be undertaken by the contracting parties in order to eliminate threats to plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, such as to survey and inventory plant genetic resources for food and agriculture, and to assist to local farmers and indigenous communities in the conservation of genetic resources and wild crops. The Treaty recognises the sovereign rights of States over their own plant genetic resources for food and agriculture and the necessity, among contracting parties, to share the benefits arising from the utilisation of these resources.
Community financial aid in the field of trans-European networks* - Public deliberation
The Council adopted its common position on the Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 2236/95 laying down general rules for the granting of Community financial aid in the field of trans-European networks (5633/04 + ADD 1 + 5644/04 ADD 1).
According to it, an increased rate up to a 20% maximum for Community support for the following priority TENs projects will be allowed:
Satellite positioning and navigation systems as provided for in Article 17 of Decision No 1692/96/EC (Galileo type projects);
priority projects on the energy networks;
cross-border or cross-natural barrier sections of selected TENs transport projects as identified in Annex III to Decision No 1692/96/EC, provided in particular that the projects are started before 2010.
The main part of Community support under the Common Position will be aimed, as proposed by the Commission and supported by the European Parliament, at contributing decisively to the implementation of the outstanding priority TENs transport projects.
At the same time, but with a much lesser budgetary impact, Community support will be targeted at TEN's priority energy projects and Galileo type projects.
The Common Position does not concern the e-TENs priority projects (TELECOM) for which the Commission has made a separate proposal, which remains on the table.
1 Where declarations, conclusions or resolutions have been formally adopted by the Council, this is indicated in the heading for the item concerned and the text is placed between quotation marks.
The documents whose references are given in the text are available on the Council's Internet site http://consilium.europa.eu
Acts adopted with statements for the Council minutes which may be released to the public are indicated by an asterisk; these statements are available on the above mentioned Council Internet site or may be obtained from the Press Office.
2 See also the Irish presidency website: http://www.eu2004.ie
4 The Slovenian delegation also supported the Italian delegation.