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EU Agriculture Council meeting held for the first time under the Estonia Presidency

Brussels, 17 July 2017 – EU ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries met at their first ordinary EU Council meeting of the year under Estonia’s Presidency. Slovenia’s representative at the meeting was Minister Dejan Židan. On the margins of the meeting, Minister Židan met with the EU Commissioner responsible for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Canete.

 

In the introductory part of the EU Council meeting, the European Commission presented the State of Play of the EU Common Fisheries Policy, followed by consultations on fishing opportunities for 2018. In the area of agriculture, the ministers discussed the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy and international economic affairs. At the request of the Slovenian delegation, the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council discussed the agenda item "Commission Delegated Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 607/2009 as regards the wine grape varieties and their synonyms that may appear on wine labels" related to the case of Teran wine. The EU Council also discussed other agenda items, inter alia the Estonian Presidency presented the Presidency’s programme and priorities over the next six months. At the meeting, the ministers also discussed the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020, focusing on the dual quality of food, where studies carried out by Hungary and Slovakia established that the quality of certain products produced for new Member States is lower than the quality of products the companies produce for Western markets. 

 

On the margins of the EU Council meeting, on Monday the Minister met with the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, whom he informed of the decision taken by Slovenia to provide support to Slovenian fishermen this year due to their small catch of pelagic fish, and of certain exceptions applied to Slovenia's fisheries. On Tuesday, the Minister met with the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Canete. 

 

On Monday, the European Soya Declaration signing ceremony took place in Brussels; it was signed by 14 EU Member States, including Slovenia. On Tuesday, on the initiative of Slovenia, the representatives of 12 forested countries recognising that forests perform an important function in storing CO2 met. At the meeting, the states expressed concern in connection with planned changes, and Slovenia expressed its request that EU rules in this area should be realistic and fair.

 

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Read more on these topics below.

 

 

MORE DETAILS ON THE CONTENT OF THE EU AGRICULTURE AND FISHERIES COUNCIL MEETING

 

The State of Play of the Common Fisheries Policy and Consultation on the Fishing Opportunities for 2018

 

The Council was briefed on a Commission communication on the state of the Common Fisheries Policy and consultation on the fishing opportunities for 2018.  This is the communication on fishing opportunities that is presented by the EU Commission every year indicating the planned approach to the establishment of fishing opportunities (i.e. total allowable catches (TACs), quotas and catch and effort limits) for the second half of the year, in which the annual regulations fixing the fishing opportunities for the following year are adopted.

 

In connection with consultation on fishing opportunities, Slovenia supports the proposals aimed at preserving fishery resources and their sustainable management and taking into account the specific characteristics and needs of Slovenian fisheries. From the point of view of Slovenian fisheries, Slovenia devotes particular attention to management measures concerning fisheries in the Adriatic. In the case of setting catch limits in the Northern Adriatic, the annual regulation fixing the fishing opportunities applicable in Union waters and for Union fishing vessels must define the provisions (such as a reserve of fishing opportunities) enabling the continuation of Slovenian fisheries.

 

On the margins of the meeting of the EU Council, the Minister met with the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and informed him of the decision taken by Slovenia to help Slovenian fishermen this year due to the small catch of pelagic fish and of certain exceptions for our fisheries.

 

Dual quality of products and foodstuffs on supermarket shelves

 

At the EU Council meeting, the Czech Republic presented the latest studies concerning the dual quality of food. In the studies, food products from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Austria and Hungary were compared, and differences in the product ingredients, quantity, or weight of the product ingredients were established. A commission chose 21 products that are sold in different countries under the same brand. Tests show that 13 of them were of different quality, 5 were of slightly different quality and 3 were of the same quality. In this respect, the Council of Ministers was informed of the conclusions of the ministerial meeting in Bratislava in May this year by the Slovak delegation. The conclusions of the meeting include findings according to which the countries concerned agreed that the phenomenon of producing foods of different qualities for different markets exists and that we must combat it, and in this context, it is very important to raise the awareness of consumers. 

 

In the discussion, which was attended by the EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Minister Dejan Židan also asked for the floor. Mr Židan presented the results of the studies concerning the dual quality of products and foodstuffs on supermarket shelves carried out by the Administration of the Republic of Slovenia for Food Safety, Veterinary and Plant Protection, the Slovenian Consumers' Association and the Nutrition Institute. He pointed out that no such differences in respect of trademarks as those established in the aforementioned countries were found in Slovenia. He warned other ministries of brands whose products can be identical are produced in different countries for different markets. He stressed that the difference in price can be great, depending to a significant extent on the quality of the product.

 

The EU Commissioner called upon Slovenia to provide all information collected in the course of the investigation of food product markets. "The Commissioner relies on the assumption that the European legal order has strong legislation which prevents unfair trade practices." According to the Minister, the Commission will instruct individual state authorities where market studies have been conducted what action to take against unfair trade practices. The Commissioner is seriously considering launching a separate investigation into the European market, which could provide a legal basis for taking legal action against unfair trade practices. In the opinion of Mr Židan, it is important to continue the investigation of the market and to keep consumers regularly informed. The Minister points out that free choices made by consumers represent more serious punishment than prosecution and the imposition of penalties on such producers. Consumers can punish producers by choosing other food products, thus constituting a significantly greater punishment than any other minor offence proceedings. "In Slovenia, a more exhaustive study of the market will be conducted this year and consumers will be kept regularly informed; however, consumers must be aware of the fact that in respect of brands, the price and quality of products are directly related." In this context, the Minister also stressed that consumers need to learn to always read declarations when buying food products.

 

Commission Delegated Regulation – Teran

 

At the request of the Slovenian delegation, the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council discussed the agenda item "Commission Delegated Regulation of 19 May 2017 amending Regulation (EC) No 607/2009 as regards the wine grape varieties and their synonyms that may appear on wine labels" related to the case of Teran wine. In his speech, Minister Dejan Židan reiterated that the method of conducting procedures, decision taking without considering the arguments brought forward by the Member States and growers who are holders of the protected designation, as well as the retroactivity and thus legalisation of illegal practices pose problems from a political perspective and from the point of view of trust in the rule of law. Four Member States, i.e. France, Italy, Slovakia and Hungary, have expressed concern about the method of adopting additional exceptions. 

 

At today's meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council, Slovenia reiterated its opposition to the adoption of the mentioned delegated act. In the presentation of the Slovenian arguments and positions, Minister Dejan Židan pointed out that the possibility to label wines with the name of the Teran grape variety, which is identical to the protected designation of origin Teran for wines produced in the Karst region in Slovenia, constitutes an interference with the existing protection, resulting in misleading consumers and causing major economic damage due to any decline in sales and the degradation of the existing protected designation of origin. "It follows from the above that no protected designation of origin for wine is safely protected and that the Commission can interfere with all other existing protected designations of origin for wine in a similar (not transparent) manner." This opens a Pandora's box of problematic issues. 

 

The Minister concluded that due to the bilateral nature of the issues, it was not possible to obtain the necessary majority (16 countries and 66% of the EU population) to reject the proposal of the act. However, by discussing this item at the Council, Slovenia again drew attention to a number of outstanding issues related to the procedure itself, the excess of delegated powers, and the relationships between the institutions. He pointed out that the Commission did not provide Slovenia with satisfactory explanations as to the questions posed, which are necessary and urgent. "Therefore, Slovenia will address the questions to the European Court, and I am convinced that the answers that will be received will prove to be important not only for Slovenia and the concrete case of Teran, but also in a broader sense for the EU as a whole."

 

Common Agricultural Policy after 2020

 

At the meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, the Commission reported on the conference and the results of public consultation on modernising and simplifying the CAP. With the public consultation, the Commission invited the interested public to offer suggestions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020. The aim of the consultation is to obtain the views of farmers, organisations and all other stakeholders on three main issues: agriculture, rural areas and the CAP today, the objectives and management of the CAP, as well as agriculture, rural areas, and the CAP tomorrow. The response to the public consultation reflects the high level of interest in the CAP, which continues to support a dynamic agricultural sector, ensuring safe and high-quality food for 508 million citizens and important investment in rural areas. The high level of participation in the consultation also shows that agriculture and its role in society is an increasingly important topic for many European citizens.

 

The outcome of the consultation clearly shows what the CAP should bring about. The main requirement is to ensure a fair standard of living for farmers, since the majority of participants (88%) think that farm incomes are lower than the EU average and that farmers receive only a small amount of the final retail price of food (97% of the participants). According to 66% of the participants, this would be best achieved by direct income support for farmers. The second main objective of the CAP is to provide incentives for farmers to combat climate change, to protect the environment and biodiversity, to reduce land degradation, as well as to promote the sustainable use of fertilizers and pesticides. In addition, the findings show that both citizens and farmers want the future CAP to be simpler and less bureaucratic in order to face these challenges more effectively.

 

The contributions received from farmers, citizens, organisations and other stakeholders will help the Commission define future priorities in the field of agricultural policy. By the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018, the European Commission will prepare a communication on the state of the Common Agricultural Policy and policy objectives, whereas the legislative proposals should be presented by the spring of next year.

 

Programme and priorities of the Estonian presidency

 

At the meeting, the Estonian presidency presented its work programme and outlined its main priorities for the second half of this year. The efforts of the Estonian Presidency under the Estonia, Bulgaria and Austria Trio Presidency related to agriculture and fisheries will be focused on further promotion of the development of sustainable, innovative, and environmentally-friendly agriculture, food, and fisheries sectors throughout the EU. The Estonian Presidency will continue the discussion on the Common Agricultural Policy after 2020; additionally, it will continue work on simplifying the rules on the Common Agricultural Policy 2014-2020 in the context of the mid-term review/revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework which relates to four of the basic regulations in the area of agriculture. The Estonian Presidency will also be active in strengthening farmers' position in the food supply chain; furthermore, it will conclude the work on the draft regulation on organic farming. This Presidency will continue the discussion on the draft regulation such that the Land Use and Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sectors will be included in the EU climate and energy framework. During the Estonian Presidency, the Commission's position on the regulation of new techniques for plant and animal breeding in the light of the interpretation of EU law regarding genetically-modified organisms is expected. In the fisheries sector, regular work will be carried out in relation to establishing the fishing opportunities for individual fishing zones.

 

Origin labelling

 

At the EU Council meeting, Belgium drew attention to the consequences of mandatory origin labelling for certain foodstuffs, particularly milk and milk products, which was introduced by some countries in the last year. In this respect, Minister Dejan Židan called for origin labelling. "Consumers want to know where raw ingredients come from and this is very important for some people." The Minister highlighted that the fact that we are not in a position to prescribe mandatory origin labelling at the EU level misleads consumers.

 

 

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