THE Brussels machine is starting to go up a gear after the summer holidays, with the implications of Brexit at the top of the agenda.
Ministers travelled to France in September for an informal think-in on the future shape of farm policy post-Brexit in the impressive Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. Over twenty ministers attended the meeting including West Cork’s Michael Creed, while the UK’s Andrea Leadsom (Secretary of State) and George Eustice (junior minister) did not make the guest list.
Speaking to reporters, Stéphane Le Foll quipped their absence may have led to a more ‘consensual debate’. Emerging upbeat following the three-hour discussion, the Frenchman said the CAP ‘to which we are strongly attached since 1962 … remains a key component of the European political project’, insisting there would be no such thing as a ‘CAP-exit’.
Ireland’s Michael Creed described the initiative as a useful opportunity to exchange initial views on the key challenges facing the CAP ‘as we begin to consider how the policy will develop for the period post 2020’.
He insisted on the relevance of a common farm policy in the broader EU context, where the strengths of the CAP in terms of its contribution to EU jobs & growth, and to the achievement of societal objectives, must be further built upon, particularly in a post-Brexit scenario.
But no Minister would be drawn on how countries will replace the ‘missing’ €7bn to the CAP budget once the UK leaves the bloc. Following UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement on October 2 of her plans to trigger Article 50 to formally launch the ‘divorce’ process by the end of March 2017, the reality of Brexit and it implications for Ireland are beginning to dawn on us. The Irish government assures the public that each department has a strategy in place to deal with the fall-out, which is expected to be finalised by mid-2019. We are entering unchartered waters, but Brussels will be keen to make an example out of the UK, particularly ahead of general elections in France in Germany. The UK will get a fair deal, but an inferior one, commentators suggest, as you cannot have your cake and eat it.
Meanwhile, Slovak agriculture minister Gabriela MateÄná called for a common, EU-wide response to curb unfair trading practices along the food chain at the informal Council gathering in the scenic city of Bratislava last month. But delegations were split on the need for a European framework on rules governing the food chain, with Ireland, France, Austria and Spain supporting the Slovak presidency, while countries such as the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark and Belgium would like to stick with voluntary platforms and self-regulatory instruments.
Strengthening the position of farmers in the supply chain and tackling unfair trading practices is a key priority for the Central European country – currently in charge of the EU’s rotating presidency – with MateÄná adding: ‘Price formation is lacking in transparency.’
At the same meeting, the EU’s young farmer lobby called for the creation of an independent body with investigative powers to oversee trade on the food supply chain, saying producers were not properly protected.
Speaking to ministers at the informal talks, President of the European Council of Young Farmers (CEJA) Alan Jagoe pointed to a lack of mandatory mechanisms to protect food suppliers and producers.
‘We need to have an independent governing body, which has oversight, supervision and investigative powers,’ he said.
Farmers’ weak bargaining position on the food supply chain is one of the key factors discouraging new entrants into the sector, the dairy and arable farmer from Carrigaline added.
Rose O’Donovan is editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu/food-agriculture/