Environmental topics at EU Agriculture/Fisheries Council, 26-27 November 2007

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The Agriculture & Fisheries Council will meet in Brussels on Monday 26 (starting at 11 a.m.) and Tuesday 27 November, under the Presidency of Mr Jaime Silva, Minister for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries. Commissioners Mariann Fischer Boel (Agriculture and Rural Development) and Joe Borg (Fisheries and Maritime Affairs) will represent the Commission at the meeting.

Ministers are invited for lunch by the Presidency on Monday. Discussion theme: 'Exchange of views on GMOs'. Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou will also participate in this debate.

The points on the agenda are:

Agriculture

'Health Check' of the CAP

On 20 November, the Commission adopted the Communication 'Preparing for the 'Health Check' of the CAP reform'. It is a blueprint for streamlining and further modernising the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy. It will build on the approach which began with the 2003 reforms, improve the way the policy operates based on the experience gathered since 2003 and make it fit for the new challenges and opportunities in an EU of 27 Member States in 2007. The reforms have modernised the CAP, but the Health Check represents a perfect opportunity to take the policy review further. It will ask three main questions: how to make the direct aid system more effective and simpler; how to make market support instruments, originally conceived for a Community of Six, relevant in the world we live in now; and how to confront new challenges, from climate change, to biofuels, water management and the protection of biodiversity.

The Communication is designed to kick off a wide-ranging six-month consultation. Next spring, the Commission will return with legislative proposals, which it hopes will be adopted by agriculture ministers by the end of 2008 and could come into effect immediately.

The press release, the Communication and further information on the 'Health Check' are available on the internet at:

http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/healthcheck/index_en.htm

Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel will present the Communication to the Ministers, followed by a first exchange of views.

Cotton reform

On 9 November, the Commission proposed a revised reform of the support scheme for Cotton. The new proposal maintains the support arrangements from the current regime, which was annulled by the European Court of Justice because of shortcomings in the impact assessment carried out by the Commission. The proposal foresees that 65 % of the aid should be 'decoupled' (i.e. no longer linked to production) and 35 % remain linked to cotton production, in the form of area payments. The Court judgment did not question the reform's approach (i.e. the change of support system) but found that the Commission had failed to carry out an impact study that included labour costs in the calculation of production costs, and failed to assess the effect of the reform on the local ginning industry. The new proposal follows the completion of an in-depth impact assessment and a wide-ranging consultation of stakeholders.
The press release, the proposal and further documents are available on the internet at: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/capreform/cotton/index_en.htm

The Commissioner will present the revised reform proposal to the Council.

Reform of the wine sector

On 4 July 2007, the European Commission adopted proposals for a wide-ranging reform of the Common Market Organisation for wine. This follows more than one year's discussion with all parties on the ideas launched in the June 2006 Communication. This aims to increase the competitiveness of EU producers, win back markets, balance supply and demand, simplify the rules, preserve the best traditions of EU wine production, reinforce the social fabric of rural areas and respect the environment. Key to the reform will be making better use of the budget (€1.3 billion), which will remain at the current level. Under the proposals, all the inefficient market support measures – various aids for distillation, private storage aid, export refunds – would be abolished from day one. The addition of sugar to enrich wine – chaptalisation – would be banned, and aid for must for enrichment, introduced to compensate for the higher cost compared to chaptalisation, would also be abolished. Crisis distillation would be replaced by two crisis management measures, paid for from national financial envelopes.

Much more money would go into promoting EU wine, particularly on third country markets. For a five-year transitional period, planting restrictions would be kept in place and uncompetitive producers would have the possibility to leave the sector with attractive financial support. After 2013, restrictions on planting would be lifted to allow competitive producers to expand their production if they so choose. Labelling rules would be made simpler, certain wine making practices accepted by all producer countries in the International Organisation of Vine and Wine would be adopted by the EU and quality policy would be based on a geographical origin approach. Member States would receive a national financial envelope and a menu of actions to allow them to take measures best suited to the local situation. More money would go into Rural Development to fund measures including the setting up of young wine producers and environmental protection.

The proposal for the reform, a press release, an impact assessment, a fact sheet and further information on the reform are available on the internet at:

http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/capreform/wine/index_en.htm

Trilateral meetings (Commission, Presidency, individual Member States) are foreseen on Monday afternoon and evening.

Import duties on cereals

On 22 November, the Commission proposed the total suspension of cereal import duties for the current marketing year - which ends on June 30, 2008. This is a reaction to the exceptionally tight situation on the world and EU cereals markets and the record price levels. Although the current levels of border protection for cereals are rather low, import duties are still applied for certain types of grains that are relevant for the balance of the EU market. The proposal will have to be approved by the Council, hopefully at its meeting starting on 18 December.

The Commission will present its proposal and there will be an exchange of views.

AOB

Feedstuff market situation

- Request from the Greek delegation, supported by the Cypriot delegation

Feedstuffs and their impact on prices

- Request from the Latvian delegation

Fisheries

The fisheries points will be dealt with on Tuesday, where Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Joe Borg will be present.

Multi-annual recovery plan for Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean

The Commission hopes that political agreement will be reached during this Council on a multi-annual recovery plan for Bluefin tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean.

On 3 April, the Commission adopted a proposal to transpose into Community law, on a permanent basis, the recovery measures for bluefin tuna recommended by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) at its annual meeting in November 2006 in Dubrovnik, Croatia (MEX/07/0403). The 15-year recovery plan was adopted on the basis of scientific advice that the Eastern stock was seriously overfished, and that the fishery could collapse if urgent measures were not taken. Of particular concern was the failure of reporting and control in the fishery, which led scientists to estimate that actual catches could be as much as 50% more than those reported.

The plan foresees a gradual reduction in the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of Bluefin tuna from 32,000 tonnes in 2006 to 25,500 tonnes in 2010. It also establishes important extension of the closed seasons when bluefin tuna fisheries are prohibited and a substantial increase in the authorised minimum landing size from 10 to 30Kg. Control is being strengthened by putting in place a joint international inspection scheme which, for the very first time, will allow for inspections by one contracting party of any contracting party's vessel on the high seas. This will be accompanied by a global control system covering every step of the process, from the catch to the market through to landing, transhipping and caging operations, based on a new catch documentation scheme. To avoid overfishing the contracting parties are required to adjust their fishing effort to the fishing possibilities fixed in accordance with the plan.

All vessels fishing for bluefin tuna will have to be registered, as will all traps, thus allowing for a clear picture of the fishing capacity. The use of aircraft to spot aggregations of bluefin tuna is now banned throughout the year, as is the transhipment of bluefin tuna at sea for purse seiners. In addition, all landings of bluefin tuna or transfers to cages for fattening will be subject to prior notification and strict control measures. The control scheme also provides for an observer scheme for both fishing vessels and tuna farms.

All marketing of and trade in bluefin tuna and related products which are not accompanied by the necessary documents to guarantee their origin, which were not caught by authorised vessels, or which do not in some other way comply with the provisions of the management plan, is henceforth banned. Recreational fisheries will also now be regulated, with a maximum catch limit of one bluefin tuna per fishing trip.

Meeting in Antalya, Turkey, earlier this month, ICCAT reaffirmed its commitment to implementing the recovery plan for bluefin tuna as rigorously as possible, and introduced new requirements for contracting parties to notify ICCAT in advance of the 2008 fishing season of the legal instruments through which they have transposed the plan. Contracting parties also need to report on their implementation of the plan at the end of season, in advance of the 2008 ICCAT annual meeting (IP/07/1712). The permanent transposition of the ICCAT recovery plan is now necessary if the EU is to meet its international commitments, and to provide the tools to ensure that the problems of implementation encountered in 2007 are not repeated in 2008.

EU-Norway annual consultations on fishing possibilities for 2008
The EU and Norway have had a bilateral Fisheries Agreement since 1980, covering the fisheries on joint stocks in the North Sea. Some of these stocks are jointly managed (cod, haddock, herring, plaice, saithe, whiting and mackerel), while others such as anglerfish, horse mackerel, Norway pout and sandeel are not. Annual Total Allowable Catches (TACs) are set jointly by the EU and Norway for the jointly managed stocks. The reciprocal exchange of quotas needs to be in overall balance across the Agreement. Commissioner Borg will inform the Council of the results of the annual negotiations with Norway, the second round of which is due to be concluded on 26 November.

2006-2008 Action Plan for simplifying and improving the Common Fisheries Policy

The Commission will present a progress report to Council on its efforts to simplify and improve the Common Fisheries Policy over the last six months, in line with the December 2005 Action Plan. This Plan was the first such sectoral action plan to be adopted as part of the Commission-wide process aimed at encouraging better regulation. Detailed actions were drawn up based on both the Council’s Conclusions and an extensive consultation process with Member States and the fishing industry. With the full support of stakeholders, the plan identified a series of priority initiatives concentrated on two key areas – conservation and control. The Commission presents a progress review to Council twice a year, once in the course of each Presidency.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU)

Commissioner Borg will present the Commission's major policy initiative of 17 October aimed at eliminating illegal fishing activities by closing off access to the markets upon which operators benefiting form illegal fishing depend for their profits. This is the first time the Council will hold a formal debate in the Commission's package of proposals for enhancing the fight against unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, only one moth after a high level conference organised by the Portuguese Presidency had brought together some 40 Ministers and senior representatives from the European Union, the EEA, Africa and Australia to discuss the Commission's initiative, with a particular focus on its trade and markets measures (IP/07/1623).

Ignoring all rules, IUU fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats, distorts competition for honest fishermen and weakens coastal communities, particularly in developing countries. As one of the major fishing powers and as the largest market in fisheries products in the world, the EU has a major role to play in stamping out IUU fishing.

The fight against illegal fishing is part of the EU drive to ensure the sustainable use of the sea which underpins the proposed integrated maritime policy recently adopted by the Commission.

The main plank of the proposal is the systematic introduction of port state control measures. Under these, the port state would only grant access to the EU market for fisheries products, both fresh and processed, that have been certified as legal by the flag state or exporting state concerned. Additionally, a European black list of IUU vessels and of states which turn a blind eye to IUU activities would be set up as would deterrent sanctions against IUU activities in EU waters and against EU operators engaged in IUU activities anywhere in the world.

The Portuguese Presidency will report on the outcome of the high-level conference on eradicating IUU fishing which it hosted jointly with the Commission in Lisbon at the end of October.

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