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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » July 30, 2012
Polska…tastes good!
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Working Out a Joint Stand
July 30, 2012   
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By Marek Sawicki, PhD, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

Euro 2012 is behind us. It wasn’t a success for Poland in sports terms but certainly a fantastic promotional one. Just the fact that most of the teams chose to stay in hotels in Poland meant that we could welcome many fans of the various national tams. They filled the fan zones. Everything, except just a few incidents, took place in a truly friendly atmosphere.

Our campaign offering guests to our country different Polish specialties—Kashubian strawberries, St. Martin’s Day croissants, apples from Ł±ck and cold-pressed apple juice from Lutynia—was very popular.

Media reports about fans during Euro 2012 included words of praise for Polish food, for our delicious pierogi and excellent żurek soup. I think we made the most of the promotional opportunity offered by the European soccer championship. Opinion polls plainly show that a great many soccer fans plan to return here and take a closer look at Poland’s attractions. It’s also very important that most of them will recommend our country to their friends. This means the results of hosting the championship will be long-term. For a great many of the guests this was their first visit to Poland and an opportunity to confront the stereotypes about us that are widespread in Europe and beyond. The prevailing opinions in commentaries say we are nice, friendly, cheerful, hospitable and that Poland is a beautiful, interesting country worth visiting.

We mustn’t waste this capital. I’m sure that next year’s tourism statistics will reflect an increased interest in our country.

Confirmation of this can also be found in the opinions of journalists from EU countries who came to Poland in late June/early July. One Media Trip organized by the agriculture ministry took them to the Kujawy-Pomerania and Pomerania provinces, where the route included visits to modern farms, factories supplying products for agriculture and the first fish market center. The guests could also see some of what our agritourism has to offer.

Receiving the reporters at the ministry, I presented our position on the Common Agricultural Policy reforms after 2012 and the arguments behind it. I pointed out the effects of assigning almost half the funding to the policy’s second pillar. I encouraged them also to look at the changes occurring in our infrastructure during their trip.

The opinions relayed back to me suggest this was an interesting lesson about Polish agriculture. Our guests discovered it is in no way inferior to agriculture in the countries of the “old” European Union. The reporters were impressed with the changes taking place here. They could see for themselves the condition of our agriculture, the tough road to global successes, the innovative drive and creativity of Polish farmers and agricultural sector entrepreneurs.

I have no doubts that such hands-on visits by agricultural reporters from different EU countries contribute greatly to getting to know one another better and therefore to better understanding.

We now face the decisive stage of talks before the final decisions on changing the CAP after 2013. This was the topic of an informal meeting of the agriculture ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia—the Visegrad Group countries—as well as Romania and Bulgaria, held on July 3 in Jasionka near Rzeszów. The discussion concerned the proposed changes to the CAP, especially in pillar one.

At the meeting I drew my fellow ministers’ attention to the fact that we joined the EU together and it would be worth speaking out together on the most important issues of the CAP’s future. I also emphasized that it is important for us to discuss any differences among ourselves. I believe that if there is a possibility of working out a joint stand then it’s worth doing. It’s worth working together and talking because this will enable us to find the best solutions for all of us. To my mind, the issues of common concern are “greening” and the system of payments.

I have no doubts that changing the EU’s agricultural policy would be the best way of stimulating growth and development in Europe in this sector of the economy. However, the proposals put forward by the European Commission so far are pretend reforms rather than actual reforms. In Poland half the money is spent on development programs, thanks to which many farms have purchased machinery, equipment, and rural infrastructure is changing. I think this model is better for the EU than what the European Commission proposes.

To my mind, the proposal that every farm should be obliged to meet extra environmental requirements deemed beneficial for the climate is not the best idea. The fact is, small farms that don’t produce for the market fulfill all the greening requirements even today. They maintain crop diversity and crop rotation. These farms should be exempt from bothersome administrative inspections. As for the reform of the payment system, most of the meeting’s participants were in favor of continuing the area payments (Single Area Payment Scheme, SAPS).

As all the meeting’s participants agreed, we ultimately want to have a system we know, a system in which farmers wouldn’t be at risk of unequal treatment. We would like to have a system that wouldn’t be based on historical data and wouldn’t disturb competition.

I think SAPS is the key to presenting the effectiveness, transparency and functionality of the payment system. The SPS [Single Payment Scheme] proposed by the European Commission is a move back into the past and increases disparities. Today we have to work together to find a way of redirecting funds from payments toward development. All of the meeting’s participants agreed the group needed more meetings together and discussions focused on the facts as well as agreement on a joint presentation of our positions on the future of the CAP. Everyone emphasized that it should be simpler, fairer and more effective.

Concluding the talks, we adopted a declaration: “Joint Statement of the Ministers of Agriculture of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia on the Key Elements of CAP Reform.”
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