No easy ride for new assembly
By Luc Vernet | Friday 26 June 2009
Although the European People’s Party (EPP) won the elections by a comfortable margin, the dominant party in the new European Parliament will nevertheless be systematically forced to form alliances if it wants to be sure of having a majority, on agricultural dossiers among others.
This is particularly important because, should the Lisbon Treaty be ratified by Ireland, the assembly will hold equal legislative power to the Council on agricultural matters. It also implies that MEPs will have to start reflecting on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy as soon as they arrive in Strasbourg to be on track for its total reform by 2013.
The Christian Democrats favour increased production to provide for the growing world population, the use of new technologies including GMOs and are calling for a policy aimed at promoting organic farming to be put on hold. The Liberals are intent on seeing an all round reduction in the CAP budget. The centre-left (PES) will be pushing for a more equitable agricultural policy more oriented towards ‘territories’ and to slow down the development of first-generation biofuels. And finally, the Greens are vehemently opposed to GMOs, backed by their highly vocal spokesman, José Bové from France, who is quick to denounce current “agricultural irresponsibility”.
Common ground now needs to be found among all these differing views in order to establish the new CAP, with MEPs, in all probability, holding equal legislative power to EU agricultural ministers for the first time. The aim of these agricultural experts is to reach agreement on the new reform by 2011 or 2012.
The agricultural sector, already familiar with rapid adoption procedures in the Council will now have to get used to long and drawn out negotiations between the different institutions, the co-decision procedure necessitating at least 18 months compared to the six or nine months required today. “It will be more difficult to react quickly and also more difficult to pass shopping lists in the Council […]. The Parliament would have to act as an arbitrator, it would no longer be able to say one thing and do the exact opposite in its resolutions. Today, the Parliament is pro-CAP, but in future it will have a more balanced position,” suggested one senior Commission official.
Either way, the newly elected MEPs will have a vital role to play in the discussions relating to the overhauling of the funding of the agricultural budget and the distribution of the budget between different parts. They will have to guarantee a truly European policy, free from any attempts at re-nationalisation, a role traditionally played by the European Parliament.
Members will also be involved in the key legislative dossiers on a daily basis, the framework directive on soil protection, for example, which is causing concern in professional circles. In general, the assembly will have to make decisions on how to prepare the agricultural sector for climate change and the potential consequences for the different crops (drought or dryer conditions and lower quality harvests in the South, an increase in the threat of natural disasters), and for animal breeding (new diseases or changes in existing viruses with severe health and economic consequences).
The Commission has also acknowledged that agriculture will be one of the key elements in the post-Kyoto discussions. The idea would be to develop production systems that create less pollution, but produce greater quantities in order to feed the ever increasing world population – a reality which will have to be integrated progressively into all agricultural decisions.
Moreover, MEPs, will also soon have to re-open the debate on the modernisation and improvement of the food labelling system and the agricultural product quality policy for which no agreement was reached during the previous term of office and look into questions relating to animal well-being and in particular the standards implemented in abattoirs for slaughtering cattle, pigs and poultry. They will also examine the question of aid for disadvantaged regions and the different measures intended to simplify the CAP. But since the CAP ‘health check’ was adopted in November 2008, the Parliament is less likely to have to answer questions about managing agricultural markets than in the past since most intervention measures have been replaced by simple ‘safety nets’ used sparingly and only in the event of a serious crisis, as currently being experienced by the dairy sector.
The Parliament will intervene on food hygiene related issues, and animal epidemics, such as mad cow disease or swine flu and of course the ongoing GMO debate on which the European Commission will again try and reach some agreement.