‘Finally’: EU agriculture ministers welcome von der Leyen’s strategic dialogue
A number of EU agriculture ministers expressly welcomed the idea of a strategic dialogue on agriculture put forth by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, though some lamented that it was not started earlier in the mandate.
In her State of the Union address last week, von der Leyen announced the launch of a “strategic dialogue” on the future of agriculture in the EU meant to foster “more dialogue and less polarisation”.
On the sidelines of Monday’s agriculture ministers’ meeting (18 September) – the first since the speech – the German Commission president’s proposal was widely welcomed, despite the fact that it is not yet clear what exactly the dialogue is going to look like and to what extent it will feed into any legislation.
“We in Germany have had very good experiences with this,” German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir said with a view to the country’s “Commission on the future of agriculture”, a body made up of a wide range of experts and stakeholders that presented detailed recommendations in 2021.
Bringing farmers, environmentalists, researchers and “all those affected” together “makes sense”, he added.
However, the Green minister criticised the Commission did not launching such an initiative earlier in the legislative term, which ends with next June’s European elections.
“Maybe it would have been good if the Commission had come up with this idea earlier, this way some of the technical mistakes in the Sustainable Use Regulation, on the reduction goals for plant protection products and pesticides, could have been avoided,” he stressed.
While Özdemir has been an advocate of pesticide reduction, he has repeatedly criticised several aspects of the Commission’s proposal for an overhaul of the EU’s pesticide legislation.
Agrifood Brief: Farm to Fork is dead, long live the strategic dialogue!
A little more conversation, a little less action please – no, that doesn’t come from a bad Elvis impersonator, but from Ursula von der Leyen and describes her new ‘softly, softly’ approach to food system transformation intended to replace the hard-hitting Farm to Fork strategy.
Balancing production and sustainability
Italian minister Francesco Lollobrigida also reacted to von der Leyen’s proposal with enthusiasm.
“Yay!” he exclaimed in front of reporters. “We hope that in Europe there will be less ideology, more pragmatism, that we will be able to consider the primary sector of the economy, the one that gives us food.”
He stressed that, while environmental sustainability is important, this must always go hand in hand with “productive sustainability”.
Similarly, Ireland’s Charlie McConalogue said the “real challenge” for European agriculture is to be productive in the sector while also doing this in a way that is sustainable in terms of the environment, biodiversity, and climate.
“This is why, on the European Union level, everybody needs to be working together, so we all make progress in this regard and support one another in the process, too,” he told Euractiv.
The Spanish and French ministers also voiced support, with Spain’s Luis Planas calling the dialogue “absolutely necessary” while France’s Fesneau welcomed the fact that von der Leyen is “putting the topic of agriculture back on the table”.
Von der Leyen’s announcement was welcomed by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who said that he would be more than happy to be working along with his team towards it.
“We have a vision for the rural development. But so far, we have not seen such a strategic document with a vision for the future of agriculture – apart from the Common Agricultural Policy and its strategic plans,” he said in the press conference after the ministerial meeting.
Commission chief envisages change of tack on EU farming policy
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave no reassurances on finalising the missing pieces of the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy in her annual State of the Union address on Wednesday (13 September), instead proposing a change of course in the current agri-food debate.
Talking instead of acting?
However, the Commission president’s speech has also been met with pushback for not making any reference to key outstanding files of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, notably the Sustainable Food Systems Law and the overhaul of the bloc’s animal welfare legislation.
Recent rumours pointed to the fact that the EU executive, unlike promised, might choose to not table the two proposals before next year’s elections.
Özdemir, who has been pushing for tighter EU-level rules on animal welfare, slammed the fact that there has been no proposal on the topics which the ministers could have discussed at their meeting.
“I turned the paper around several times, but I could not find the agenda point ‘animal welfare’,” he said, adding he “expects” the Commission to table a proposal before the next ministers’ meeting.
“The success of this Commission is also measured by the extent to which what it has announced finds its way onto the agenda and is seriously addressed,” he stressed. “Everyone can make announcements – actions are what counts.”