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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 29, 2011
Polska… tastes good!
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Focus on Food Safety
July 29, 2011   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Agriculture, rural development and fisheries have been incorporated into the general priority of the Polish presidency of the EU, which is “Safe Europe—Food, Energy, Defense.” In this way Poland is highlighting how fundamentally important food safety is to EU citizens and the special role of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy.

In the ongoing debate on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy and increased competitiveness of European agriculture, we will point out that it is necessary to support projects which aim to develop renewable energy sources in rural areas and promote efforts which seek to stimulate the production of energy from agricultural by-products and waste generated by the food and agricultural industry.

As regards the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU, our presidency will seek to work out an institutional framework to help the EU develop a sustainable fishing sector and ensure sustainable and responsible management of fish species in the long term. We will also work on a new European Fisheries Fund and fishing quotas for 2012.

As far as the Common Agricultural Policy is concerned, I believe that for the sake of European agriculture, the policy should be thoroughly reformed so it becomes simpler and revisits its foundations. Such changes will not, however, be accomplished by the European Parliament Resolution on the Common Agricultural Policy Towards 2020: Meeting the Food, Natural Resources and Territorial Challenges of the Future, also known as the Dess report, after European Parliament member Albert Dess who prepared it. I believe that many provisions in the document stand in opposition to the government stance adopted Feb. 4 this year on the Commission Communication on the Common Agricultural Policy Towards 2020: Meeting the Food, Natural Resources and Territorial Challenges of the Future. To begin with, the resolution rejects the idea of a flat direct area payment rate across the EU which, in my opinion, would best correspond to current and future goals of the Common Agricultural Policy. The flat rate would also ensure equalized support for farmers in all EU member states, a step that needs to be taken.

According to Dess, the departure from the disadvantageous direct payment system which leads to inequalities and is based on outdated historical criteria should be a gradual process with transition periods. The Dess report maintains a “tunnel” concept for direct payments where each member state is guaranteed a certain minimum percentage of the average payment in the EU. This contradicts the Polish proposal to equalize direct payment rates across the EU.

The necessity to abandon the currently used Single Area Payment Scheme (SAPS) in favor of a Single Payment Scheme which is based on entitlement to payments may turn out to be another major disadvantage. I am convinced that the SAPS is more efficient than SPS as a multi-level direct payments system of the kind proposed in the Commission Communication. The idea of introducing entitlements to the payment system is particularly hard to accept for Polish farmers, as it contradicts the plans to simplify the Common Agricultural Policy.

I am also worried by proposals to link the discussions on new criteria for support distribution in the first and second pillars and by provisions which call for redistribution of second-pillar resources and a fair division of funds relying on objective criteria while preserving a “pragmatic approach.” Since it is vital to further reduce discrepancies in rural development across the EU, I believe that the present criteria on the division of funds in the second pillar should remain.

The document, in turn, provides for maintaining support for less favored areas in the second pillar, which contradicts the idea of simplifying the Common Agricultural Policy and may serve as an argument for differing levels of support in member states.

The resolution also drops the idea for a new EU system of export loans which could become an important tool when the EU has to discontinue export payments, a move necessitated by the EU’s international obligations.

Still, the report compiled by Eurodeputy Dess is just a document and no binding decisions have been made so far. We still have some time to work out a reasonable compromise on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. This can be done provided that European politicians forget about any coming elections and national interests and instead concentrate on the single agriculture sector in Europe and on how to make it more competitive. Only then can Europe have a single and genuinely Common Agricultural Policy equipped with modern mechanisms capable of quickly and efficiently facing any threat that emerges. Backed by such a policy, European agriculture will be able to compete on the global market.

It is high time we all stopped paying merely for being ready to produce, as that is conducive to stagnation. Now is the time to pay more attention to innovation and rural development.
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