EUROPE
EU’s strategic dialogue on agriculture halfway through but still far from conclusions

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s initiative to tackle polarisation in the agricultural sector is expected to reach its conclusions by September, but sources close to the talks told Euractiv that stakeholders are still not close to defining concrete agreements. 

A total of 29 food sector stakeholders have been meeting since January to exchange views on the future of the EU’s agriculture and food system, an initiative proposed by von der Leyen in September to foster “more dialogue and less polarisation.” 

The “strategic dialogue” is now halfway through, aiming to conclude discussions during the summer and present a vision plan for the sector before September. 

But a source close to the talks told Euractiv, “We’re still not close to defining agreements.”  Adding that the parties were only now starting to discuss in more detail the four main topics: economic growth, sustainability, innovation, and the whole value chain. 

The stakeholders will hold their fourth plenary meeting in June.

So far, they have agreed on “very general” references to problems faced by farmers and the need to take into account environmental sustainability, said the source. 

The discussions are being chaired by Professor Peter Strohschneider – former chairman of the German government’s ‘Commission for the Future of Agriculture’ – who visited the College of Commissioners Wednesday (22 May), to update them and gather input on for the initiative. 

A bid for consensus 

According to the source, Strohschneider’s approach to the talks is that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

While the source said this could have a positive effect in forcing the parties to be open and active in the discussions, they also mentioned some drawbacks.   

“Until the very last minute, any party can veto [a conclusion],” they said, adding that, with this policy, “it is difficult to see where we’ll get.”

Another source close to the dialogue also pointed to the potential of the Strohschneider’s bid for consensus to foster understanding between stakeholders.  

However, “the risk is that we end up with a weak text,” they said.  

EU ministers’ look ahead 

Meanwhile, the EU Council is working on its own conclusions on the future of agriculture, to be presented at a meeting of the bloc’s agriculture ministers, 24-25 June.

The Belgian Presidency of the EU Council is working with the national delegations on a ministers’ vision for the sector. The draft, seen by Euractiv, calls on the EU executive to work towards a food strategy that ensures “sufficient, safe and sustainable” food in the bloc. 

According to the draft the ministers want agriculture to be one of the priorities of the EU’s Strategic Agenda for the 2024-2029 mandate.

The text supports a balance between autonomy and openness to international trade for the EU’s food sector, endorsing the concept of “open strategic autonomy” and calling for reciprocity standards in trade agreements “where relevant and compatible” with the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) rules.  

In the draft, the ministers also acknowledge that the “preservation of ecosystems is crucial to ensuring food security.”

The document recognises the “many reasons for dissatisfaction” expressed by farmers in recent protests and their efforts to enhance “the sustainability of food production,” while facing challenges such as the impact of climate change and Russia’s war on Ukraine.  

The text calls on the European Commission to carry out an “in-depth” assessment of the administrative burden of EU rules on farmers – one of the key concerns highlighted in farmers’ rallies across the bloc – and recognises the role of national administrations in simplifying procedures.  

“Member states are the first points of contact for farmers and are responsible for the management and the distribution of EU funds,” reads the draft. 

[Edited by Angelo Di Mambro and Rajnish Singh]

Source: Euractiv.com

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