26 June 1998
EU’s new president promises to play fair
By Philip Clarke, Europe editor
AUSTRIAN farm minister, Wilhelm Molterer, has three top priorities as he prepares to take over the EU farm presidency next week.
Agenda 2000, agrimoney reform and animal welfare are the issues that are expected to dominate his six-month tenure. “Last weeks Cardiff summit set a clear timetable for dealing with CAP reform,” he told Farmers Weekly.
“Decisions are needed by March 1999, and we will do all we can to achieve that.” That will not be easy, given the differences of opinion in the agriculture council. “But there is no alternative. We have to get it wrapped up before MEPs disappear for their elections next spring.”
Mr Molterer stressed that, as EU farm president, his role would be impartial. But that is not at odds with his track record as Austrian farm minister, which has been communitaire rather than simply looking to serve his national interest.
“We have to have common rules for the market organisations,” he said of plans to give national Governments more scope to allocate EU subsidies. “But the commission proposal does provide a clear framework for doing this, so it should be possible for governments to structure their payments in appropriate ways.”
Mr Molterer is strictly against any renationalisation of the CAP or any suggestions that environmental aspects should be dealt with as a separate policy.
“We can only have a sustainable CAP if we deal with the environmental problems as part of the agricultural policy. Public acceptance in the long run can only be achieved if consumers have confidence in the quality and safety of the products and the care of the environment.” But the higher costs associated with delivering this should be acknowledged as part of the forthcoming World Trade Organisation talks.
As for milk quotas, (which are maintained until 2006 under Agenda 2000) Mr Molterers record has been to defend them, so as to prevent a return to surpluses and to keep farmers on the land in more marginal areas. He acknowledges that is at odds with commission objectives to boost the efficiency of EU farming. “But sometimes the cheapest policy is not always the best in the long run,” he said.
On agrimoney reform, the Austrian presidency will have no option but to delivery a new package, as the current system will become obsolete after the launch of the Euro on January 1, 1999. “We have to have a solution for the four non-joining members, though I hope it is not too long before the UK and the others join monetary union, which is a crucial aspect of the CAP.”
Turning to BSE and the beef ban, he is clear that the conditions for achieving this are set out in the Florence agreement. “If these are met, then the ban can be lifted. But the fact that the Standing Veterinary Committee is still studying the date-based scheme proposal shows we do not have the basis for that decision yet.”
This ultra-cautious approach has also typified Austrias approach to genetically modified organisms. Together with Luxembourg, Austria has so far resisted the release of any GMOs within its border. But Mr Molterer is pragmatic.
“I personally believe we will have GMOs in agriculture in the long run. But we must take great care and recognise that there will be part of the sector, for example organic farmers, who do not want to deal with them.”
For this and other stories, see Farmers Weekly, 26 June-2 July, 1998