Select Committee on European Union Fortieth Report


Letter from Lord Rooker, Minister of State for Sustainable Farming and Food, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to the Chairman

  I am writing to update you with developments on the proposal for the control of potato cyst nematodes, to which the above Explanatory Memorandum refers.

  As anticipated, the Austrian Presidency have held only a single Council Working Group, during which a detailed read through of the text was started. The Presidency made clear their intention to consider the conclusions arising from the UK Presidency's Impact Assessment as an integral element of this analysis. However, in practice only very limited progress was made in seeking initial reactions to some of the individual Articles in the text and responsibility will now pass to the Finnish Presidency. At this stage, it seems unlikely that the Finnish Presidency will be able to give priority to this issue, so significant progress is likely to have to wait until the German Presidency in the first half of 2007. Germany is the main proponent of the proposal, so will wish to see it moving forward.

  While it is too early to gauge the extent to which the Impact Assessment conclusions will be addressed in an adopted text, I can assure the Committee that support for this objective continues to be pursued by the UK. For instance, prior to the most recent Council Working Group, bilaterals were held with a number of Member States who had expressed concerns about the cost:benefit situation. The aim of these meetings was to identify areas of common ground and to discuss strategies for influencing others.

  The degree to which these initiatives will bear fruit will become apparent as discussions progress and I propose that I keep the Committee informed of further significant developments. I will of course do this at an early stage, to ensure that the House has an opportunity to react and respond to such developments. As mentioned above, it is most likely that the position will start to become clear during the German Presidency, but should progress be achieved during the Finnish Presidency then I will of course alert the Committee promptly.

  The Committee may be interested to know that the consultation exercise, referred to in Willy's earlier correspondence, has proved helpful in developing the UK strategy regarding this Proposal. Twelve written replies were received in response to the consultation papers and there has also been input through meetings with the main potato trade bodies and individual growers. General concerns were raised about the cost:benefit situation and specfic points were made in relation to the measures affecting seed potatoes, ware potatoes and plants for planting, particularly regarding the practicality and proportionality of such measures. Such points are reflected in the Presidency Impact Assessment and also provide the basis for the UK negotiating strategy adopted by my predecessor. We will continue to involve stakeholders as Council discussions progess, particularly as specified amendments are considered.

5 June 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Lord Rooker

  Thank you for your letter dated 5 June which Sub-Committee D (Environment and Agriculture) considered at its meeting on 5 July.

  It is disappointing that the Austrian Presidency has not progressed further on this proposal, which seeks to improve protection against potato cyst nematode (PCN) in those areas of the EU which as yet remain uninfected. We note that the proposal is unlikely to move forward before the German Presidency and we look forward to receiving an update from you when developments emerge.

  We note that your initial Regulatory Impact Assessment concluded that implementation of the new proposal would be likely to result in additional costs for both industry and Government, but recognised that it would also bring benefits in terms of reducing yield losses. We will be particularly interested to scrutinse the cost-benefit aspects of this proposal and ask that you ensure this information is provided when you next update the Committee.

10 July 2006

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