Commission still evasive on timeline of EU’s food agenda missing pieces
The parliamentary hearing to award the Green Deal portfolio to European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič did not offer much clarity on the timeline of the remaining pieces of legislation of the Farm to Fork, the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy.
On 3 October, lawmakers from four committees of the European Parliament were asked to evaluate Šefčovič’s suitability to take charge of the Green Deal policy following the resignation of Frans Timmermans in order to stand in the Dutch general elections scheduled to take place in November 2023.
Many stakeholders and lawmakers awaited the occasion to get more information on the missing pieces of the agri-food portion of the European Green Deal.
The upcoming initiatives feature the EU’s revision of the animal welfare legislation and the Sustainable Food Systems Law, which was supposed to make up the backbone of the Farm to Fork itself and whose fate now hangs in the balance.
However, when asked by MEPs to provide some schedule for the two proposals, the Slovak Commissioner only promised to “do our best to coordinate our schedules with the Council schedules to make sure that we would use every single day in the most efficient way”.
“It’s quite clear that if you have files on the table where significant work was already invested […], we can finalise the work,” he told the lawmakers, without committing to an agenda for the next months.
He added that, if he eventually receives the Parliament’s support, he will come back to MEPs “with a very clear timeline of outstanding files” in a bid “to combine the continuity with the high ambition for the future”.
EU’s Šefčovič pledges ‘dialogue’ to win Green Deal portfolio
European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič pledged to hold several dialogues on the green transition – with industry, farmers, and citizens – in order to win the European Parliament’s support to oversee the EU’s Green Deal during a hearing on Tuesday (3 October).
Animal transport rules almost ready…
According to Šefčovič, the most advanced proposal in the Commission’s pipeline is the animal transport review, which will be probably split from the revision of the animal welfare rules and presented earlier on.
“We believe that in this case, there will be [something] ready soon,” the Commission vice-president stressed.
Sources close to the file confirmed to Euractiv that the Commission is aiming at mid-November to unveil a review of the existing rules which dates back to 2005.
The fitness check of current EU legislation on the protection of animals during transport was concluded and discussed at the ministerial level in 2022, with the EU Food Safety Agency (EFSA) having already delivered its scientific opinions on the matter.
The European Parliament also adopted some recommendations on the topic at the end of the work of an ad hoc parliamentary inquiry committee that worked from June 2020 to January 2022.
…but animal welfare file needs more time
On the other hand, the revision of the animal welfare rules might take more time as they are “very comprehensive and complex and at the same time sensitive and important for a lot of people”.
“Once it’s ready, we will come up with that proposal. But as I said, I mean, it’s a huge, huge work. And we still have to work on the details and on a proper evaluation of the proposal,” said Šefčovič.
Animal welfare campaigners criticised the Commissioner’s reply, saying that the proposal is actually ready and the EU executive is just sitting on them.
“What is difficult for the Commission is not the technicalities of drafting the new laws, but the pressure they are getting from right-wing political groups and the factory farming lobbies,” said Olga Kikou, Head of Compassion in World Farming EU.
Likewise, Joanna Swabe from the Human Society International/Europe said that the announced legislative proposal on animal transport is good news, but alone, falls short of the commitments made in the Farm to Fork Strategy and the Commission’s commitment to come up with a legislative proposal by 2023 to ban cages for a number of farm animals.
Sustainable food systems law lags behind
Šefčovič adopted a similar stance on the other missing file, the Sustainable Food System (SFS) law, reassuring MEPs that the EU executive is finalising the dossier but that work is ongoing on “what needs to be done, how this could be done, how much would it cost, what would be the best timeline to present it”.
“Once I have the honest answer, I will come back to you and I will clearly inform you,” he said,” he said.
The Slovak Commissioner added that there is also the possibility to further prolong the discussion and the conversation on this file after the talks he had “with the mayors who introduced this public procurement for sustainable food systems, for the city halls and cities”.
NGOs urge EU not to abandon flagship sustainable food systems law
Civil society groups and academics have urged European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to push ahead with the proposal for an EU legislative framework for sustainable food systems amid concerns its fate hangs in the balance.
Discussions with farmers to start soon
On von der Leyen’s announcement of the launch of a “strategic dialogue” on the future of agriculture in the EU, Šefčovič said he “would like to get these discussions organised as quickly as possible” privileging “a variety of opinions in the room”.
“We would like to talk to all groups of farmers, big or smaller, from all geographical locations because we know the situation in Poland might be different than the situation in the Netherlands,” he said.
At the same time, he stressed the aspect of finding new ways for farmers or forest managers to be rewarded for climate-friendly activities, as already happened with the part of EU farming subsidies allocated to the agriculture community for their efforts in the field of biodiversity.
“We definitely do not want our farmers to bear the costs for the transition. And I think it’s our common task to make sure that this is happening,” he said, adding that working on this is key to also bringing additional financial resources to agriculture and forestry in the EU.
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.