DURING his speech before the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 17th, An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar defended the EU’s farm policy. Addressing the plenum on the eve of his 39th birthday, the Irish premier said the EU should ‘continue to fund well programmes and policies that work like the CAP, and provide money for research, innovation, Erasmus, the European Investment Bank among others.’
During his 25-minute wide-ranging speech setting out a vision of the ‘Future of Europe’ including on Brexit, climate change, tax issues and migration, the young leader of Fine Gael thanked the House and national capitals for their support in getting the British government to agree that there could be no return to a hard border in Ireland. ‘It is proof positive of why small countries benefit so much from membership of the EU,’ he said. Switching between English, Irish, German and French, the Dubliner quipped that in ‘the Europe of the future all Member States will be small states even if they do not all realise that yet.’
The address was warmly received, but Nigel Farage of UKIP said Varadkar was being used as a political pawn by the bigger countries to make the Brexit process as difficult as possible. ‘Small countries normally count for nothing,’ the former UKIP leader said.
He also accused Varadkar of working with Tony Blair and Nick Clegg to get a second Brexit referendum – a claim shouted down by several MEPs. Shortly after the speech, both men were photographed sipping Champagne and getting on a like a house on fire at a lunch hosted by European Parliament vice-president Mairead McGuinness.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria took over the reins of the rotating presidency of the EU Council from Estonia on January 1st, with talks on the future CAP, market situation, unfair trading practices among retailers vis-à-vis farmers and trade at the top of the agenda. Ministers will meet for the informal Council in Sofia in early June (3rd to 5th) for the traditional gathering where farm policy post-2020 is up for discussion.
Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Rumen Porodzanov will present the key presidency priorities at the first Council meeting on January 29th, where delegations will also hold an exchange of views on the future of food and farming in what is expected to be a ‘defining year’ for European farmers.
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS and has been following the evolution of European farm policy for over ten years.