I and my hon. Friend, the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare represented the United Kingdom at this month's Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Luxembourg. Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Environment and Rural Affairs Minister, also attended.
The Council reached unanimous political agreement on a presidency compromise proposal to reform the fruit and vegetable regime. The UK voted in favour as the reform met our negotiating objectives, including the flexibility we had sought with regards to allowing the four regions of the UK to take their own implementation decisions on inclusion of fruit and vegetables in the single payment scheme. The reform will also deliver full decoupling of the aids for products grown for processing.
The Council also reached unanimous political agreement on a presidency compromise text, on the conclusion of the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Greenland. The agreement provides fishing opportunities in Greenlandic waters for EU vessels including those of the UK, in return for Community funded financial contributions.
The Council adopted a conclusion on the Commission's report on the application of system of cross-compliance.
The Council also adopted a set of general conclusions on the Commission's communication on reducing bycatches and eliminating discards. The UK intervened to welcome the Commission's initiative, but also drew attention to the potential difficulties in finding solutions that worked in the mixed fisheries which characterised the EU situation.
The Council formally adopted a proposal to simplify and update the current regulation on organic food and farming, following the general agreement reached on the proposal during the Finnish presidency last year.
The Council also adopted a range of Agriculture and Fisheries "A" points: labelling requirements for veal meat; a proposal amending the common organisation of the market in cereals by the abolition of maize intervention; multi-annual management plan for North sea sole and plaice; recovery measures for European eel; and a recovery plan for bluefin tuna in the eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The UK could not offer its support to the compromise text on bluefin tuna. Despite voting against, the UK did manage to secure a joint Council-Commission declaration which should mean cases of overfishing are dealt with appropriately in the future.
The Council reached political agreement by qualified majority on a presidency compromise text establishing a common organisation of agricultural markets. The proposal consolidates the existing 21 sector-specific Common Market organisations into a single horizontal regulation. The UK voted in favour of the compromise text which satisfied the UK's principal concerns.
The Council also reached political agreement by qualified majority, with the UK voting in favour, on a set of measures to rebuild and manage the cod stocks in the Baltic sea.
A number of issues, as follows, were raised under any other business:
The Council took note, without discussion, of a report provided by the presidency on the outcome of the conference of directors of EU paying agency, which was held in Postsdam, Germany. The Council also took note of a written update provided by the Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner on the state of play of discussions on proposals covering the marketing of plant protection products and on the sustainable use of pesticides.
The ten new member states currently applying the single area payment scheme expressed concerns on the implementation of the system of cross-compliance.
The Agriculture Commissioner updated Council on progress in the WTO agricultural negotiations.
The Fisheries Commissioner set out the Commission's initial plans for handling the setting of the total allowable catches for 2008. He highlighted the importance of involving the full range of relevant stakeholders in the decision-making process.
Denmark expressed concerns about the operation of the existing management plan for the North sea sandeel fishery. The UK reminded the Commission about its interest, albeit limited, in the fishery and asked to be consulted when the management arrangements were reviewed.
Finally, the UK expressed concerns regarding the continued illegal use of drift nets by a number of member states, following the ban agreed in 1992. The Commission explained that it took such illegal activity seriously and that it would make full use of its treaty powers to pursue any infringements.