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EU ministers on Common agricultural policy, forest strategy, plant health and fishing opportunities

EU Ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries met yesterday and today at the EU Council meeting held in Brussels. The main items on the agenda were agriculture and fisheries. Minister Dr Jože Podgoršek attended the meeting on behalf of Slovenia. The Minister also met with Italian and French agricultural ministers in the framework of the meeting.

Agriculture: the preparation of CAP strategic plans, negotiations on the CAP legislative package and plant health

The EU Ministers devoted particular attention to discussing the structured dialogue and the Commission's recommendations for the preparation of strategic plans for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This delivery model or the strategic planning of Member States has to include the measures of the first pillar (direct payments, sectoral measures, e.g. for beekeeping, for the wine sector) and the second pillar (Rural Development Programme). The Minister pointed out that the preparation of CAP strategic plans is an important process, establishing a model for the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy, and that the Commission's recommendations undoubtedly help in the preparation of strategic plans. He warned that the recommendations should not limit the Member States' choice of the measures used for achieving the goals, taking into account their non-legally binding nature. "It will not be possible to address all recommendations with CAP interventions; in choosing the interventions, we have to ensure an appropriate balance between economic, social and environmental aspects." Slovenia already communicates with stakeholders and five working groups have been established to this end. In relation to defining national values for the European Green Deal goals, the Minister warned at the Council that we need to clarify how the Member States should define these goals, and how and whether the realisation of the goals should relate to the measures/CAP interventions in the strategic plan.

On the second day of the meeting, the Ministers discussed the outstanding issues related to the tripartite negotiations on the CAP reform legislative package, in the light of preparing to the super dialogue between the EU Council, the European Parliament and the European Commission, which will be held on 26 March 2021. The Minister reiterated that it is extremely important for Slovenia that a political agreement is reached as soon as possible; if the legislative framework is not adopted, we will not be able to prepare the strategic plans in time. "However, we are aware that a lot of work lies ahead and that we must be willing to compromise on some of the European Parliament proposals, in particular in connection to the regulation on the common organisation of the markets and the proposal to include the respect of social and labour rights in agriculture." It is important for Slovenia to follow a general approach of the EU Council in relation to green architecture and some elements of the new delivery model, including the model for carrying out controls.

The debate that followed touched on two themes related to plant health: the use of biological control agents (macro-organisms) against plant pests and the preparedness concerning phytosanitary measures to protect against plant pests that threaten agriculture. The aim of the debate about the second theme was to raise political awareness on the importance of plant health and plant problems caused by non-native plant pests, which do not have natural predators in the EU. Minister Dr Podgoršek agreed with his counterparts that climate change and globalisation of the trade in plants and plant products have a growing influence on the increased risk of introduction and spread of dangerous plant pests in the EU. "It is therefore important to uniformly implement the reviewed and up-to-date legislation from 2013 at the Member States level." The Minister stressed that Slovenia devotes much attention to the programmes for early detection of quarantine pests, because this is crucial to eradicate the pests and prevent their spread to new areas. According to the Minister, informed producers and other citizens are an important element in the early detection of pests. He recalled the contribution of campaigns that were organised in the past year as part of the International Year of Plant Health.

The aim of the debate on the use of biological control agents (macro-organisms) against plant pests was to put forward an initiative for a uniform EU regime of placing macro-organisms for plant protection on the market and putting them into service. The area has not yet been uniformly regulated and each Member State applies its own rules. Slovenia is in favour of such debate, considering that the use of useful organisms in order to eradicate disease and plant pests can significantly contribute to a more sustainable disease and plant pest control.

Fisheries: the EU-UK agreement on fishing opportunities

Monday's meeting began with consultations on fixing the fishing opportunities for 2021, and for deep-sea stocks for 2021 and 2022 in relation to the stocks shared by the EU and the UK. The EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which is provisionally applicable from 1 January 2021, was concluded at the end of last year. Fishing opportunities between the EU and the UK are fixed annually in accordance with the Agreement. The approach is similar to the annual consultations with Norway. However, this year is somewhat special. The EU-UK consultations on fishing opportunities started only in January, that is after concluding the umbrella agreement with the UK. Both sides have therefore agreed that, pending an agreement on the fishing opportunities in question, fishing opportunities correspond to 25% of the EU share of the fishing opportunities set for 2020, which will be valid for three months until the end of March. After tripartite negotiations and several rounds of compromise proposals, a new political agreement was reached on Tuesday in relation to amendments to a proposal for a Council regulation fixing the fishing opportunities for 2021, and for deep-sea stocks for 2021 and 2022 in relation to the stocks shared by the EU and the UK, which will be valid until 31 July 2021. Even though this is not directly relevant for Slovenian fisheries, the agreement is paramount for ensuring that vessels flying a European flag can continue to fish in these waters.

The EU forest strategy

The Austrian delegation, with the support of several Member States, stressed the challenges and priorities that should be addressed in the preparation of the post-2020 EU forest strategy. Slovenia supports the continuation of the political discussion on the new EU forest strategy, stressing the importance of enhanced cooperation and integration in forestry. The Minister pointed out during the discussion that Slovenia advocates a multifunctional, close-to-nature and sustainable forest management with a triple function: social, environmental and economic. "We can thus ensure biodiversity, a favourable conservation status of forests, and the availability of wood as a material and energy resource." According to the Minister, the strategy should take into account the different starting situations of Member States.

Minister Dr Podgoršek in bilateral meetings

Minister Dr Podgoršek held two bilateral meetings in the framework of the EU Council. He met with the French Minister responsible for agriculture and food, Julien Denormandie, and the Italian Minister of food, agriculture and forestry, Stefano Patuanelli.

With his French counterpart they presented the priorities of Slovenian and French presidencies as France will take over the EU Council Presidency from Slovenia. France supports the topics that Slovenia, as the presiding country, will include among the priorities. The French Minister stressed the necessity of close cooperation between the two countries, observing that some of the topics will already start during the Slovenian Presidency. He made specific reference to the areas that France considers important, including designations of origin, geographical indications and the application of the same standards for agricultural products originating from third countries. They discussed the EU forest strategy, which puts special emphasis on preventing deforestation. The Ministers touched on the preparations for the 2021 AGRA Fair, which will feature France as the partner country, and Slovenia's intention to participate again in the next year's edition of the SIA Fair held in Paris.

During the discussion with his Italian counterpart, they talked about participating in joint projects, such as the ongoing cross-border protection of Teran. Minister Podgoršek thanked his Italian counterpart for expressing support for the new "Prosecco" agreement, which was signed last year. He also thanked him for the activities for the resolution of problems encountered by the owners of land on both sides of the border (Rateče agricultural community), resulting in an agreement earlier this year. The Ministers stressed the importance of close cooperation in fisheries and they discussed nutrition labelling, where Slovenia supports Italy's position. Minister Podgoršek invited his Italian counterpart to visit Slovenia.