Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Rt Hon David Miliband MP, Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  In light of the Parliamentary recess, I am writing to you in place of the usual written statement to summarise what happened at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels on 18 July 2006.

  I represented the United Kingdom at the July Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.

  The Chairman of the Council began by setting out the Finnish Presidency work programme for the next six months. It includes progressing work on organic food and farming; spirit drinks, work on wine and banana sector reforms; energy crops; forest strategy; Community animal health strategy; fisheries total Allowable Catches and quotas and Common Fisheries Policy simplification.

  The Agriculture Commissioner presented the Co mission's Communication on the reform of the wine sector in the EU analysing the situation on the EU wine market and setting out various options for the reform of the current regime. Following the presentation, the Council held its first discussion on the basis of two questions drawn up by the Presidency. I welcomed the Commission analysis stressing that the current regime is unsustainable. I also said that further debate was necessary to achieve a reform that would allow efficient producers to thrive.

  The Agriculture Commissioner gave a progress report on the WTO agricultural negotiations. She stressed that the EU offer from last October still remained on the table and underlined that that it would be better for EU to achieve a balanced deal now than no deal at all. Along with a number of Member States, I expressed our support for the Commission and its tactics in the WTO negotiations.

  The Council held a policy debate on Commission proposal laying down rules for voluntary modulation in light of the December 2005 European Council future financing agreement for 2007-13. This proposal sets out the terms by which Member States can voluntarily modulate from pillar 1 of the Common Agricultural Policy (direct payments) to pillar 2 (rural development). I argued the need for flexibility in the proposal, in particular to allow for voluntary modulation to continue to operate on a regional basis and without a franchise and on whether to apply the rules on minimum spends.

  Under any other business; the Fisheries Commissioner updated the Council on developments in the negotiations concerning EC/Mauritania fisheries agreement and asked for Council agreement to a swift adoption process once the agreement has been initialled.

  France raised concerns about the social and economic impact of a ban on anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay. The Commission reiterated its position that the fishery should remain closed and said that it would examine the possibility of financial aid for affected fishermen.

  Austria, supported by 16 other Member States, drew the Council's attention to various difficulties in the Commission's proposed changes to the agricultural state aids rules.

  The Council took note without discussion of a written update from the Commission on the latest developments with regard to Avian Influenza H5N1.

  The Finnish Presidency announced that their iInformal meeting of Agriculture Ministers would take place from 24-26 September; it will focus on the European Model of Agriculture and CAP reform.

25 July 2006

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