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Agrifood Brief: The best thing that could ever CAP-pen

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Forget prophecies of empty coffers and huge cuts for founding members: Ukraine’s EU accession is the best thing that could ever happen to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Is Ukraine’s agriculture too big to be subsidised with EU funds? This is a recurring question in the recent EU enlargement debate.

This week, a preparatory document to the Granada summit leaked by the Financial Times scared many with its calculations of the impact Ukraine’s possible accession would have on the EU budget.

The paper, drafted by the general secretariat of the EU Council, assessed that Ukraine would be eligible for a whopping EUR96.5 billion of CAP funds, leading to cuts of about 20% in farm subsidies to current EU member states.

Ukrainian officials soon replied, saying that evaluating the impact of Ukraine’s accession on the EU’s farming subsidies under the current criteria is not a relevant exercise, since Kyiv’s EU membership will likely lead to the end of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as we know it today.

Having been an agri-food reporter for a long time, I’ve heard other people wonder – actually quite often – how such a global agricultural powerhouse can be integrated into the EU’s farming subsidies programme without going bankrupt.

I’ll be going against the trend and saying that an eventual Ukraine’s EU accession (which now seems much closer than ever before) will even have a beneficial impact on our beloved CAP – or at least on two of its long-standing controversial aspects.

First, one of the most feared things by European farmers at the beginning of any CAP talks: cuts to EU subsidies.

The CAP financial envelope was already heavily downsized in the multi-annual financial framework (MFF) for the 2021-2027 period due to Brexit, with a huge loss of funds particularly in the rural development aid (for the insiders: the so-called second pillar).

Ahead of the talks on the next seven-year programming period, there’s also a widespread sentiment that devolving almost one-third of the EU budget to farming might, perhaps, be a bit too much as there is a need to get money for new priorities such as defence or industrial policy.

The other main point is some sort of ‘un-reformability’ of the CAP, which is still considered a policy that can be tweaked and re-tweaked but eventually remains equal to itself.

Think about those countries like Italy and the Netherlands – or the then EU member state the United Kingdom – which have always pushed for giving more relevance to rural development rather than to the traditional direct payments to farmers without getting basically nothing in return.

Even the recent attempts to green the CAP with the so-called eco-schemes have been considered only a drop in the ocean.

But Ukraine’s EU membership could be a game-changer for both aspects.

Since integrating Ukraine into the CAP is a huge challenge (but an essential one), it won’t be possible without proper financial resources – meaning the Commission and the EU lawmakers might think twice before suggesting cuts in the CAP.

Likewise, you can’t face this challenge without a proper farm reform aimed at a re-thinking of the direct payment per hectare system (for the insiders: the so-called first pillar), since the average size of arable land of Ukrainian farm enterprises amounts to 485 hectares (in France, for instance, is 30 hectares; in Poland is eight hectares).

This means that the setting up of a badly needed redistributive payment scheme capping direct payments to large farms will become a priority.

Of course, there are also food safety issues for Ukraine products to sort out, as well as some risks that might arise with the CAP implementation because of the level of corruption in the neighbouring country.

CAP reform talks will be kicked off in the next mandate, and come into effect only in the 2028-2035 programming period.

Even the most optimistic about it wouldn’t think that Ukraine will join the EU before 2035. Still, Ukraine will be the elephant in the negotiating room and probably the leading force to avoid cuts and impose a real CAP reform.

It’s not bad at all, is it?

By Gerardo Fortuna

Agri-bites you need to know

Glyphosate state of spray

For those rooting for or against the re-approval of glyphosate, the big day is approaching: Next Friday (13 October), EU member states are set to vote on the Commission’s proposal to re-approve the widely used herbicide for another ten years during a meeting of the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed (PAFF).

But even days before the vote, its outcome still remains unclear, as very few countries have taken a clear stance so far.

In the ‘yay, let’s spray’ camp, we have Portugal, Spain, Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, Denmark, and the Czech Republic, who have all indicated support for the re-approval proposal, while Slovenia and Italy have some qualms but are generally in favour.

In the ‘for gly-f*cks-sake’ camp, on the other hand, we have Austria, who has committed to voting against the approval, with Luxembourg and potentially Croatia likely to be on the no-side as well, according to sources. Meanwhile, Germany’s agriculture minister is vocally against the Commission’s proposal but could be forced to abstain by dissenting opinions within the Berlin government coalition.

The remaining countries have either not given any opinion on the matter yet or are sitting on the farm fence, such as France, whose government is not generally against re-approving glyphosate but is unhappy with the way the Commission wants to do this, and is pushing for changes to the proposal.

Speaking of changes: According to diplomatic sources, the Commission has been tweaking its original draft and should table a new version in an effort to get more member states on board. However, comments made by Food Safety Commissioner Kyriakides on Wednesday suggest these changes will not be very fundamental.

Sefcovic gets a lukewarm response

The parliamentary hearing of Green Deal-hopeful, Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, failed to impress lawmakers this week in Strasbourg after he failed to clarify the timeline of the remaining pieces of legislation of the Farm to Fork, the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy.

Sefcovic had more success in round 2 with MEPs in the form of additional written answers, where he confirmed that only the legislative initiative on the protection of animals during transport is included in the EU executive’s agenda for the next months. The new set of rules is expected to be presented in December, while no commitment has been made to the animal welfare revision and the Sustainable Food System Law proposal.

Ukraine’s grain drain

Speaking to journalists on the sidelines of an event on the future of Ukraine’s agriculture sector this week, Ukraine’s Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka said the war-torn country is “not in a [WTO] dispute” over the unilateral trade measures imposed by EU bordering countries because it has not yet “form[ed] any dispute settlement body”.

“We are at [the] stage of consultations,” he said, adding that there is a 60-day period permitted for this. He said the focus was on “finding solutions” and voiced hope for an “EU-wide constructive solution”, adding that Ukraine is not targeting single countries but that it is a “systemic question of our relations with the EU.”

He added that he hoped a solution could be met once the Polish elections, due on 15 October, are out of the way.

‘Curing’ cancer

Tighter rules will apply to hams, sausages, and other cured meat in the EU after the Commission announced on Friday that it is setting stricter limits for nitrites and nitrates as food additives.

The substances are commonly added to processed meat products to extend their shelf life, add flavour, and enhance the colour, but studies have linked the consumption of nitrite-cured meat to a higher cancer risk.

The push to lower limits comes as part of the EU’s Beating Cancer Plan and is meant to give a “clear signal to the industry and smaller producers that it is time to address the challenges posed by the presence of nitrites and nitrates in foods,” according to the Commission.

“I now call on the food industry to swiftly implement these science-based rules, and wherever possible, to reduce them further to protect the health of citizens,” Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said in a statement.

Beyond these admonitory words, the Commission has also set a deadline of two years for implementing the new standards.

? Dear Jooooohn, I see it all now that you’re gone ?

The EU agrifood sector lost a DG A’GReat’ this week with the departure of top trade expert John Clarke. With 30 years of experience under his belt, John is a familiar face to many of us working in the agrifood sphere, and one that will be sorely missed. To get a flavour of John’s work over the past three decades, check out his feed on X, which features some phenomenal photos (this one is a personal favourite). We wish you all the best in this next chapter!

Other nibbles

No progress on food waste. Food waste per capita in the EU remained stable in 2021, according to new data released by EU statistics agency Eurostat this week. The majority of food waste was produced by households (70kg per capita), followed by food manufacturing with 28kg. Overall, 131 kilograms of food was wasted per EU inhabitant. In July this year, the Commission tabled a proposal aimed at slashing food waste in the EU by 30% by 2030.

Agri committee to vote on pesticides proposal. During its session on Monday, the agriculture committee could become the first in the European Parliament to adopt an opinion on the Commission’s proposal for a new pesticide regulation (SUR). The agenda for Monday’s meeting lists a vote on the file. The vote on the contentious file had been postponed in July due as talks between the different political groups had not come far enough. However, the main committee responsible for the proposal is the environment one (ENVI), which is set to vote later this month.

CAP corner

Ukraine’s EU membership will trigger a rewriting of CAP, says Kyiv official. Evaluating the impact of Ukraine’s accession on the EU’s farming subsidies under the current criteria is not a relevant exercise as Kyiv’s EU membership will likely lead to the end of the Common Agricultural Policy as we know it today, according to Ukraine’s Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka. Read the full story.

Agrifood news from the CAPitals

FRANCE

France presents sovereignty plan to save crisis-plagued livestock sector. French Agriculture Minister Marc Fesneau presented a series of measures on Tuesday to ensure the crisis-ridden livestock sector regains its long-lost food sovereignty in almost all sectors. Read the full story.

GERMANY

Berlin sends new agriculture envoy to help Western Balkans with EU accession. As part of its efforts to secure EU accession for the Western Balkans, the German government is sending for the first time an agricultural attache to the region to help it implement the often highly technical EU legislation in the field. Find out more.

AUSTRIA

Farmers call for EU origin label. In an open letter sent to the European Commission this week, Austrian farming associations called for an EU-wide origin label that would make it mandatory to indicate the origin country of food products. “The consumer deserves clarity and freedom of choice just as much as the farmer deserves fairer competition,” the Farmers’ Association, the Chamber of Agriculture, and centre-right lawmaker Simone Schmiedbauer said in their joint letter. The Commission was originally set to table a legislative proposal on food labelling, but there has been no indication that this will still come before next year’s elections. (Julia Dahm I EURACTIV.de)

SPAIN

Spain’s regional, national governments move towards compromise in irrigation feud. The Spanish and Andalusian governments have agreed to launch a dialogue on the contentious question of legalising irrigation around the Donana National Park. The agreement comes after a year of tensions between farmers, environmentalists, and the two governments over the issue. EURACTIV’s partner EFE Agro has more.

POLAND

More Polish state aid approved. Another EUR132.3 million worth of subsidies from the Polish state to its farming sector were approved by the European Commission on Friday. The funds are set to “support cereal and oilseeds producers in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine” and come as one of many batches of Polish state aid for the agricultural sector over the past months.

GREECE

No more talk of crisis reserve. During a visit to Greece this week, Agriculture Commissioner Wojciechowski reassured the country that funds from the Common Agricultural Policy can be used to rebuild after the recent devastating floods. However, contrary to what the Commission signalled shortly after the extreme weather occurred, Wojciechowski only mentioned existing and unused CAP funds, while making no reference to the agricultural reserve. In mid-September, the Commission had made waves by floating the idea of advancing money from next year’s agricultural reserve – a yearly CAP fund reserved for market disturbances – to support the country.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Read more with EURACTIV

 

 

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