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Minister Šinko at the meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council

Minister Irena Šinko attended the meeting of the EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council. The attendees exchanged opinions on the new draft Regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products presented by the European Commission. Moreover, they discussed the agricultural market situation in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the initiative to update the EU legislation on animal transport, and confirmed the Council’s decisions with regard to the new EU strategy for the sustainable development of aquaculture. The Ministers familiarised themselves with the situation of the EU member states in preparations for the implementation of the new Common Agricultural Policy and strategic plans.

The morning Council session started by outlining the work programme and priorities of the Czech Presidency. Inter alia, the Czech Presidency will give high priority to the effects of Russian aggression in Ukraine on food security. In continuation, the EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, Stella Kyriakides, presented the new Regulation on the sustainable use of plant protection products with the aim of reducing the risks and effects of the use of pesticides on human health and the environment. The aim of this draft regulation is to replace the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive in regulating pesticide use and to ensure greater compliance with the objectives of the European Green Deal and the “Farm to Fork” strategy. In her speech, Minister Irena Šinko said that Slovenia agrees that it is necessary to reduce the use of pesticides to the minimum quantity necessary that enables food production, health protection, soil, pollinators and biodiversity preservation. Moreover, she warned that the unavailability of alternative methods is not duly taken into consideration in the legislative proposal, and that the differences between individual countries regarding the structure and intensity of agricultural production have not been adequately addressed. “Slovenian agriculture is already facing pressures on plant production due to the small average agricultural area per producer, the relatively large share of permanent plantations (vineyards and orchards), which are subjected to more than 80% of phytopharmaceutical consumption in Slovenia”. Furthermore, the Minister recalled that we can boast of exceptional biodiversity and consequently have the largest share of Natura 2000 areas in Europe (37%); more than 50% are sensitive areas. “In sensitive areas, more than 30% of cultivated areas are permanent crops and more than 40% are cropland, therefore the current new draft regulation proposing a ban on the use of all PPSs in these areas is viewed as absolutely unacceptable for us, as it would prevent cultivation in these areas with long-standing tradition. As no alternative to pesticides is currently available for most crops, this would mean the abandonment of agricultural activity in these areas. We reiterate that this is absolutely unacceptable for Slovenia”, said the Minister upon proposing that the legislative proposal is improved so as to effectively contribute to the reduction of risks associated with the use of pesticides and consider the differences between countries.

This was followed by a discussion on updating the legislation on animal welfare at transport. Millions of animals are transported throughout the EU on a daily basis, and despite the fact that the EU legislation sets out that animals are to be transported so as not to cause injury or unjustified suffering, cases of violations have been observed. Therefore, in the debate, the Minister highlighted that inappropriate animal transport can significantly affect the welfare of animals. “An example of good practice in Slovenia is the veterinarian active mobile unit that has been monitoring the welfare of animals in transport since 2004; the unit is empowered to stop vehicles transporting animals in traffic and check whether the transport complies with the regulations”.

At the afternoon session, the Ministers upheld the Council’s decisions on aquaculture, which, in light of this year’s developments, further emphasise the importance of self-sufficiency in the EU in this area as well. According to Minister Šinko, Slovenia supports the strengthening of sustainable aquaculture in the EU; freshwater aquaculture and mariculture production exceeded the level of catches in maritime fishing several years ago, which underlines the importance of aquaculture for the supply of sustainable fishery products in our country. “In this respect, we welcome the stated purpose for increased cooperation and harmonisation between institutions, both at EU and national level, in order to reduce the administrative burden for the aquaculture sector and enable sustainable and nature-friendly production that is close to consumers and integrated into local environment”.

Today, the European Commission also put forward the progress in adopting strategic plans for the common agricultural policy. Minister Šinko thanked the Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski and other representatives of the European Commission for good cooperation to date. Furthermore, she attached great importance to the approval of the strategic plans of the member states at the earliest possible opportunity. “Strategic plans are a key tool of the common agricultural policy in the coming years. Quick completion and confirmation by the Commission should be our common priority, also in light of ensuring stable conditions for farmers due to the negative consequences of Russian aggression in Ukraine”. The Minister also said that good communication with stakeholders is very important, namely the stakeholders should be promptly informed of all the requirements of the new common agricultural policy. “The whole process is very demanding and complex. It is necessary to find an appropriate balance between all the objectives of the CAP, take into account the aspect of food security and not lose sight of the economic situation of farmers. A planned approach to green architecture will enable us to achieve a high level of involvement of farmers and, consequently, an appropriate level of environmental and climate ambition”. Therefore, the Minister expects the Commission to be constructive and flexible at the end of the negotiations, and to limit its demands to legally binding elements.

This was followed by the presentation of a report by the European Commission on the situation in agricultural markets due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Minister Šinko said that due to the rising prices of energy products, raw materials and seeds, the situation in Slovenia remains of the utmost concern. Moreover, she presented the measures to assist farmers and fishermen drawn up by the government working group. She added that cooperation between countries is very important in the current situation.

Today, Minister Irena Šinko also met with the Finnish Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Antti Kurvinen. First of all, she thanked her Finnish colleague for the support during the Slovenian presidency. In the discussion, they devoted attention to forestry and addressed issues in this regard, especially to the regulation on deforestation, monitoring of the state of forests and forest strategic plans, the legislative proposal on habitat restoration, criteria for sustainable financing, the directive on renewable resources and strategic plans of the common agricultural policy. They highlighted the importance of the continued active operation of the group of like-minded countries and within the framework of the For Forests group (Sweden, Finland, Austria and Slovenia). At the close of the meeting, the two Ministers agreed to strengthen further good cooperation between the two countries.