Inter-parliamentary conference on the contribution of national parliaments to improving the CAP kicks-off in the Croatian Parliament

Zagreb - Marking the tenth anniversary of Croatia’s membership in the European Union, the Agriculture Committee of the Croatian Parliament organized an inter-parliamentary conference on the contribution of national parliaments to the improvement of the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union. With a view to promoting carbon print reduction, for the first time the Croatian Parliament organized this event as a paperless conference.

The aim of the conference was to conduct an analysis of the instruments of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the CAP’s impacts on the competitiveness of the agriculture of the member states, the preservation of rural areas, generational renewal and the sustainable use of natural resources.

In addition to members of delegations from 24 parliaments of the European Union and countries from the Alps-Adriatic-Danube region, the conference was also attended by representatives of the academic and professional community, agricultural institutions and chambers.

The Chairwoman of the Agricultural Committee Marijana Petir, the initiator of this conference, addressed the participants at the beginning of the conference. “I believe that you, in your capacities as members of the committees responsible for agriculture and rural development and as elected representatives of the citizens in your constituencies, are in daily contact with farmers and representatives of your rural communities. I believe that you can therefore witness first-hand about the achievements financed from the Common Agricultural Policy funds, but also about the constraints that farmers and local communities are facing due to rules that do not sufficiently take into account the individual EU member states’ different starting positions“, Petir said. She emphasized the need for a greater involvement on the part of national parliaments’ competent committees as well as of farmers in the creation of the Common Agricultural Policy, in the preparation and design of measures, programmes and activities financed from this, still most generous European envelope. 

“Although the new framework of the Common Agricultural Policy has provided greater flexibility to member states, thereby enabling recognition of the specificities within each one of them, and providing funds for their financing, it is still not sufficiently adapted to the opportunities and needs of the member states, as it imposes equal obligations on all of them. 
Moreover, the European Green Deal, the Regulation on the Sustainable Use of Pesticides or the Nature Restoration Law set out enhanced environmental requirements. Croatian farmers express concern as almost 50% of the territory in the Republic of Croatia is included in the ecological network and already now our farmers use significantly less pesticides, antimicrobial agents and artificial fertilizers compared to the EU average. Thus, we fear that the equal approach for everyone will further reduce our agricultural production and turn the entire territory of Croatia into a nature reserve, which is not our ultimate goal”, Petir warned.

She talked about the major challenges faced by farmers, such as climate change, natural disasters, unfair trade practices, trade agreements that allow the import of products whose producers do not have to meet the criteria set for European farmers, as well as the depopulation of rural areas and labour shortages in agricultural production.
Petir highlighted the need for a well-designed and wise policy that would enable the inhabitants of rural areas to live in dignity in the villages, that would attract new residents, but also that would make agricultural production more attractive. “Agricultural policy should be bottom-up driven, and farmers should be included as much as possible in its creation, concluded Petir.
Addressing the participants of the conference in a video message, the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, reminded that safeguarding food security was an essential task of the European Union. “Together we share the responsibility of implementing this Policy. It is necessary to share experiences, exchange good examples and discuss what has worked well so far, and what could be done better in the future”, said the Commissioner. “We must deliver for farmers by enabling their competitiveness, ensuring their access to best advice, knowledge and innovations… maintain a resilient food supply and secure the future of rural communities”, Wojciechowski said.

The Speaker of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandroković, officially opened the conference. In his address to European parliamentarians and conference participants, he expressed the hope that the results of their discussions would ultimately contribute to the improvement of the Common Agricultural Policy, so that this Policy would be able to respond to the needs of farmers and consumers, today and in the future.

The first panel that followed was dedicated to the challenges and opportunities of the Common Agricultural Policy in the context of the implementation of the CAP national strategic plans (CSPs). CSPs opened up the possibility of creating activities and measures aligned with the specific needs of the member states, but also imposed high climatic and environmental requirements on the creators of the plans and farmers.

In her introductory speech on this topic, Minister of Agriculture, Marija Vučković, highlighted the constructive cooperation of her Ministry with the Agriculture Committee of the Croatian Parliament, concerning national positions for proposals for legislative acts at the level of the European Union, reports from meetings of the Council of Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries or cooperation on specific issues. She talked about the benefits achieved in the agricultural sector during the ten years of Croatia’s EU membership, and pointed out that today the value of Croatian agricultural production has increased by approximately 29 percent, productivity by approximately 62 percent, while the export of agricultural and food products has augmented by almost three times. She also highlighted the influx of significant funds from the EU budget, as well as additional funds, which made it possible to increase the competitiveness and productivity of Croatian agriculture. Minister Vučković also spoke about numerous challenges in the agricultural sector and the joint efforts of European institutions and member states to find solutions.

She noted that the first year of implementation of the reformed CAP brought about many changes, with an emphasis on climate, environment and biodiversity protection. She pointed out that it was too early to evaluate the impact of the measures from the Strategic Plan, but following the reactions concerning the improvement of certain interventions, consultations had already begun with the European Commission on the modifications of the plan. She emphasized the need for constant cooperation with representatives of the sector, as well as with national and European institutions and bodies. At the same time, she noted that all activities related to the adoption and implementation of the Strategic Plan were done in consultation with the public.

The Chairman of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament, Norbert Lins, emphasized the Croatian contribution to the CAP during the Croatian presidency of the Council in 2020, despite the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. He emphasized the need for the joint action of the EP, the Council, the Commission and national parliaments in implementing the reform processes of the CAP. He presented the EP’s achievements during the adoption of the new CAP reform package, with an emphasis on achieving a fairer distribution of the CAP funds, promoting fairness and supporting small farmers. He highlighted the key role of national parliaments in the implementation of CAP measures, with regard to national strategic plans that should deliver on their objectives at the local level. He emphasized the importance of dialogue between the EP and national parliaments within the framework of inter-parliamentary cooperation, as well as the opportunities granted to national parliaments, namely in scrutinizing the respect of the principle of subsidiarity.

He also expressed concerns regarding the implementation of the measures related to the environment, especially regarding the proposal for a regulation on nature restoration, given that it is not known how these measures will be financed and whether they will be compatible with the CAP. Therefore, he emphasized the need for European legislation to be consistent. He concluded by listing the requirements for a strong CAP: securing funds, adopting within the framework of the European Green Deal measures that are in accordance with the CAP, and actual success of the strategic plans in achieving their goals.

The Director-General of the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, Wolfgang Burtscher, talked about the prominence of national parliaments' role in improving the CAP. He referred to several important topics related to the implementation of the CAP. Like the previous speakers, he emphasized the importance of working on food security, with simultaneous adaptation in times of crisis. “Climate change, environmental degradation, all this affects agriculture, and the CAP should be made sustainable in the new circumstances”, said Burtscher. He believes that Europe is strong when it comes to food security, but that crises show that it is also vulnerable, particularly so when it comes to energy. He emphasized the importance of introducing new technologies into agricultural production and of fairer financing of small and large agricultural holdings. He also mentioned food inflation, i.e. its affordability, as one of the challenges.

Regarding sustainability, economically, ecologically and socially, he believes that now is the time to make the right decisions, taking into account the different situations in different member states, which is why flexibility is needed. “National plans and decisions will be crucial and it will not always be possible to point the finger at Brussels”, he said. “Ultimately, each member state will need to define to what level the EC will finance something, and what will be financed from national sources”, he concluded.

Representatives of national parliaments took part in the discussion that followed and presented their views on this topic. They talked about the need to reduce administrative burden for farmers and to reduce input costs. Most representatives believe that it is neither simple nor easy to establish a balance between the CAP, the requirements for environmental protection and competitiveness. Representatives from Italy and Portugal spoke about the big problems faced by farmers in their countries due to climate change, extreme weather events, the invasion of pests from Asia that destroy fruit plantations such as apples and pears, etc.

The Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Zagreb, Ivica Kisić, spoke about the agro-environmental diversity of the European Union countries, i.e. the specificity of agricultural production in the north and south of Europe, which should also be taken into account when creating the CAP. He proposed that the EU member states be allowed to decide independently on the agro-environmental measures they will take in order to achieve the set goals related to climate change, and environment, landscape and biological diversity preservation.

Wolfgang Burtscher, Director-General of the Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission, concluded the panel. He reiterated several important points and problems related to the implementation of CAP national strategic plans, such as yield inflation, the need to revise the Multiannual Financial Framework, the challenge of Europe's self-sufficiency in food production, climate change and the importance of farmers' adaptation to new circumstances, the use of new technologies and digitalization in agricultural production, and the implementation of crisis management methods in risk situations.

The conference continued with a second panel dedicated to the Declaration on the GMO-free Alps-Adria-Danube region.