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Rural development and renewable energy

SCA discusses Presidency compromise proposals on Greening pillar 1

According to other sources, the Irish Presidency compromise outlines that where the “eligible agricultural area of a holding covers more than 15 hectares, farmers shall ensure, that from January 2014 at least 3% (and as from January 2016 at least 5%) of their eligible hectares excluding permanent pastures", is in Ecological Focus Areas (EFA)..

An EFA may include land left fallow (as with the former set-aside scheme), but also terraces, buffer strips without fertiliser or pesticides, areas covered under ‘equivalent’ agri-environment measures, eligible area of vineyards on steep slopes, areas with nitrogen-fixing crops (which
might include protein crops such as peas and beans, lucerne or even soya crops).

The Presidency text suggests that Member States will be able to decide which of these are considered as EFAs in their territory, and that they may decide to include additional types land use subject to approval by the Commission.

Some Northern member states have expressed concern that forests were not adequately taken into account. The draft adds that Member States “may decide to implement up to 50% of
the percentage points of the EFA at regional level in order to obtain adjacent EFAs”, allowing additional credit where farmers work together to secure landscape scale benefits.

Derogations from the EFA requirements would be granted to holdings where more than 75% of the eligible agricultural area is grassland, and also to farms where more than 75% of the arable land is under grass production, or cultivated with leguminous crops, land laying fallow, or some combination of these land uses.

Ahead of the Special Agricultural Committee discussions on 4th and 5th March (and the European Parliament vote on the future of the EU sugar regime the following week), COPA sent a letter calling for EU sugar production quotas to be kept until at least 2020 'in order to ensure a stable European sugar market and a dynamic beet industry'.

COPA Secretary-General Pekka Pesonen stressed that “the sugar beet sector needs a stable regime in order to continue improving its competitiveness.' He points out that 'there has already been a big restructuring of the sector ... in the 2006 reform, when major economic cuts were made'.

At that time, national quotas were reduced to 85% of EU internal demand, transforming the EU from a net exporter into a net importer. In addition, the 2006 sugar reform introduced a liberalisation of the refining of imported raw cane sugar, leading to an increase of raw sugar refining capacities in some countries since 2006, COPA claims.

COPA calls for any further 'privileges' to the refining industry to be rejected as this would 'put into question the effort done in terms of competitiveness and the future sustainability of the sugar beet industry.'

Mr Pesonen added “Further progress in plant breeding, through which up to 20 tonnes of sugar per hectare can be achieved in the best beet producing regions, will contribute to a more efficient sector. Maintaining the sugar beet industry in our rural areas necessitates also maintaining the attractiveness of beet growing in comparison to other arable crops sectors”.

For these reasons, COPA is calling on the EU institutions to ensure that the current organisation of the sugar market be extended until at least 2020, and that a mechanism be introduced to allow out-of-quota sugar to be placed on the market when this is needed 'to balance the market'.

COPA - COGECA has called for the existing organisation of the sector and its contractual procedures to be maintained, so as to ensure the beet supply chain in the EU functions well . If quotas were to be abolished, the market would be more volatile, which they say would be detrimental to farmers, industry and consumers. It would also be bad for the environment as sugar beet plays an important role in crop rotation.

Pekka Pesonen has told MEPs that COPA is "pleased to see that some of our demands were taken on board by Parliaments’ Agriculture Committee in January" and urges all MEPs to support them in their vote at plenary session (13th and 14th March). COPA is pressing for increased flexibility on measures to further green the CAP and more incentives for farmers to achieve green growth.

He says COPA is concerned that the EU will be the only market that will be cutting back on its agricultural potential at a time when there are major worries about food security, and points out that world food demand is expected to rise by 70% by 2050 and market volatility is on the increase. He says that in this context, "the EU Commission proposals to reduce the amount of land in production by as much as 7%, with no clear environmental benefit, makes no sense and must be revised in the vote by Parliament”.

In addition, Copa-Cogeca opposes any transfers of funds from the first to the second pillar of the CAP which has been proposed, saying that the first pillar of the CAP will be more important than ever if the EU is to ensure food security, stability and sustainability. They are also concerned that member states will be able to give very different levels of funds to different measures which could cause serious distortions of competition between producers.

COGECA in particular has welcomed the Agriculture Committee's move to reinforce farmers position in the food chain by strengthening producer organisations and cooperatives to enable farmers to get a better return from the market. COPA - COGECA is urging all MEPs to support this, saying that "efficient measures to manage the market and to help farmers and cooperatives deal with the extreme market volatility are vital under the new CAP".