MEPs grill commissioner over Covid-19 supports for farming

Numerous MEP members of the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee grilled the European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Janusz Wojciechowski over Covid-19 supports for European farmers today, Thursday, April 30.

The European Parliament’s Agriculture (AGRI) Committee met the commissioner earlier today, Thursday, April 30, to discuss the new market measures to help the agri-sector through the Covid-19 crisis.

Key among the queries and comments put to the commissioner was the relatively low amount of funding – some €80 million – allocated to the agricultural sector during such a time of economic turmoil.

Several committee members urged the commission to come up with further actions to help EU farmers deal with the effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

The package needs to be improved to deliver real relief to all struggling farmers, a number of them stressed.

Flanagan

However, in his response, Irish MEP for Midlands-North West, Luke Ming Flanagan, said such funding should not come as a surprise:

“I understand that people are frustrated that there doesn’t seem to be enough money to go around.

To be honest with you, €80 million probably wouldn’t be enough to fill the hole in Ireland alone – but there’s no point in being populist about this and complaining that there isn’t an awful lot more money.

Flanagan expanded, noting that when member states put in less than 1% of Gross National Income (GNI) in recent years, they shouldn’t be surprised when “there isn’t billions available”.

Asking specifically about the dairy sector, the MEP asked:

“What consideration was given to production reduction – because we have done that a couple of years ago.

Obviously we might need some intervention – but would he consider the idea of production reduction? The last time this was done, it actually worked.

Flanagan also quizzed the commissioner as to why the EU is not using the crisis reserve fund at present, and asked what the commissioner’s position is in relation to the lessons learned from the coronavirus when it comes to the length of our food chains.

McGuinness

Meanwhile, MEP and First Vice-President of the European Parliament Mairead McGuinness warned the commissioner that the fund of €25 million for Aids to Private Storage (APS) for beef is insufficient to meet the needs of the sector, which is “decimated by market disruption”.

The MEP highlighted that the beef sector – already fragile before the Covid-19 crisis – “has now escalated to a situation where beef farmers are at breaking point as the full impact of the closure of the food services market takes hold”.

While any support offered to the sector is welcome, in order for the measures to impact at farm level with better prices, it needs to be of a sufficient scale and duration.

McGuinness also said that the APS scheme needs to be “more flexible when it comes to the cuts that should be stored and those that can be sold on the marketplace for both beef and sheepmeat”.

Commissioner’s response

In his response, Commissioner Wojceichowski insisted that the commission “has done what is possible at the moment” to “guarantee that the problems are tackled”.

He recognised that “the package is probably not fully satisfactory”, but he insisted that the commission “had to choose” to help “as many people as possible” where “problems are most severe”.

He said that work is ongoing in negotiating the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) which will provide more clarity in terms of funds available.

On a related note to Flanagan’s production reduction comments, the commissioner said:

We are thinking about supplementary or correctional measures – but obviously I can’t give you details of the discussions that we’re having on the MFF.

“I can only assure you at the moment that obviously we’re going to be doing as much as possible; I will be doing as much as possible from my side to make sure that the budget for the sector is as strong as possible.

“We know of course that the CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] has to be properly regarded as a strategic and critical sector and that it receives appropriate support.

“And I think this is going to happen because I feel that the agricultural sector is obviously going to be considered as being one of those sectors that is going to be of maximum importance to exit the crisis,” the commissioner said.

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