Category Archives: Group 3

Czech Republic might lose €400 million on new Agriculture policy

The new reform of Common agriculture policy which aims to prevent rich landowners from taking millions of EU subsidies could be destructive for the Czech Republic where used to be cooperative farming.



by Magdalena Medkova

While small farms in poor regions across Europe struggle for their survival, the EU legislation let big agriculture businesses and rich landowners take millions on the Common agriculture policy to run their fields and grasslands.

According to the farmsubsidy.org,  a nongovermental project for transparency of EU subsidies,  around  80% of European farm aid (€55 billions a year) goes to just one quarter of European farmers, to those with the  largest holdings.

This Febuary the Commission said this was no-longer justifiable in the view of European taxpayers, who contribute €100 a year on farming aid, and proposed a new reform which would limit the financial support per large individual farm to €300,000 a year.

“We believe that the capping of subsidies is an important step of how to allocate the money in more fair way,“ says Dacian Cialos, the Commisioner on Agriculture and Rural development.

The  new reform, which is planned to enter into force in 2014, now has to be approved by the European Parliament and the Council. However, what seems to be fair for some is unfair for others and with 27 member states across Europe  there will always be someone left unsatisfied. 

The term of capping
– The basic payment scheme received per farm will be limited to €300,000 per year
– Payments higher than €150,000 will be subject to progressive reductions
– The main aim is to restrict the amount of subsidies for large holdings
– Nowadays the basic payment is redestributed according to the amount of hectares
– The amount of money has not been limited so far.

 Martin Pycha, a member of nongovermental Agriculture association in the Czech republic,  says that this proposal  is a dismissal failure.

 „The commission  doesn‘t take on account that capping will destroy the production of those countries which are based on big agri-associations,“ he says.

According to the study made  by the EU, while member states such as Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Austria, Finland, Slovenia, France won’t be touched by the capping,  the agriculture production of Slovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic will be affected, due to the large farm structures.

As Martin Pycha says, for the Czech Republic the ceiling could be a problem in particular since the agriculture system is from the old comunism regime, where  there used to be cooperative farming.

 

Collectivism in the Czech Republic

  • –       In 1946 the comunistic regime introduced collectivism of agriculture
  • –       In the period of 1950 – 1985 colective farms increased by six times
  • –       Total area owned by collective and state farms counted about 64,000 km²
  • –       While the private farmers hold only 4,040 km²
  • –       after the Velvet revolution in 1989 the farms split into big associations

 

Nowadays about 34% of Czech capholders are above the CAP ceiling, according to the European statistics. Which would mean that the Czech agriculture sector  might lose from 250  to 400 millions euros a year due to the new system of capping.

„It is just another form of discrimination , what we hear now is that member states with large agriculture associations which have extended their production and gave jobs to hundreds of people are now going to be punished,“ says Martin Pycha.

From his point of view not only will the capping of subsidies have a negative impact on production but also on the employement in the agriculture business.

The commissioner of agriculture and rural development, Dacian Cialos doesn’t agree with that argument and says that the commission plans to make „ additional loans for employment so the inclusion of cap criteria should make sure that some of the large farms with high rate of employment will be exempted from the capping requirement.“  

However, Alan Swinback, a professor of Agricultural Economics from University of Reading,  points out that in terms of equality the ceiling of direct payment won’t solve the problem.

 „We will be victims of the big agriculture businesses, spliting into small farms in order to gain more on their subsidies,“ says Alan Swinback.

 

A big task for Parliament

Last week, on Monday, Martin Pycha came to Strasbourg to lobby against the new proposal in the European Parliament.

„We have already known that the Czech MEP’s are not in favour with the term of capping, so our priority for next six months is to keep trying to persuade the others,“ he says.

The European Parliament has had limited influence over agricultural policy for a long time . The European farm ministers took decisions based on a Commission proposal and the Parliament simply gave its opinion – but with the Lisbon Treaty the Parliament has the same power as the Council.

Before any proposal become a law the two organizations have to reach a common agreament.

James Nicholson, a member of European Conservative and Reformists Group and Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, thinks that the main task for the Parliament will be  how to meet the expactations of both sides.

„I think that most of us understand the big farmers but on the other hand we also understand the taxpayers who might not be willing to support rich landowners any longer,“ he says.

Last year, in December, the NGO‘s farmsubsidy.org published a list of ‚milionairs‘, including govermental organizations, non-agriculture businesess or rich aristocrats such as Prince Charles and Queen of England. This has raised another discussion about the subsidies redestribution.

Christel Schaldemose, a member of Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in EP, see the public image of CAP as a high priority.

There are people in Europe who are struggling on their farms every day and the European Union doesn’t do anything but supporting millionairs,“she says and ads that the parliament has to find a solution which won‘t produce any more negative consenquences.

However, as she says: „The biggest shoulders should carry the biggest burdens and it is to say that if you have already hit someone than you should hit the others.“

 

[box] The Common Agriculture policy (CAP)
– Is a program and system of EU subsidy redestribution among farmers
– Curently represents 34% of the EU budget
– Costs100 € every EU Citizen a year[/box]

 

The national interest

The capping at €300,000 has been firstly proposed in 2002 by Franz Fischler, however rejected by members and postponed, partly because of opposition from the UK.

„I wouldn’t be suprised if the capping is the last think to be agreed on,“says James Nicholson, a member of Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

According to James Nicholson, a reform of Common agriculture policy is a problematic issue since farmers have always been taken as a potentional voters of national goverments.

I don’t think  we can expect the decision to be reached until the election in France and Germany is held (2013),“ he says.

And ads that whatever the final decision will be „with 27 member states there will be always some countries who are getting more than the others.“



Danish presidency might run out of time on prestige project

If the EU’s heads of states do not manage to agree on the directive on energy efficiency under the Danish presidency, Danish MEP Bendt Bendtsen fears a later agreement will be very weak or not at all, resulting in the EU not meeting the 2020-goals for climate.

Text and photos by Lene Munk

In June 2011 the Commission made a proposal for a directive on energy efficiency. At first the proposal was met with 1800 amendments. Now the Danish EU-presidency, with minister of Climate and Energy, Martin Lidegaard in front, is trying to make the 27 member states agree on the directive. And this has proven to be something of an exercise.

The EU has set itself the task of achieving 20 percent primary energy savings in 2020. Investigations from the Commission are showing that they are far from the goal and according to the proposal the directive on energy efficiency has to be implemented now for the EU to reach its goal in 2020.

“So far the sad fact is that where we are on track to meet the binding target on renewable energi and the binding CO2-reduction target, we are very far from meeting the nonbinding energy efficiency target. We should be on track to meet 20 percent, but we are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard says.

”We are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” Connie Hedegaard says about the energy efficiency goal.
”We are not even on track to meet 10 percent,” Connie Hedegaard says about the energy efficiency goal.

One of the challenges for the Commission is that the member states are not happy about binding targets on energy efficiency, but according to Connie Hedegaard the states are not so good at meeting the nonbinding targets, even though they have committed to prove that they are able to.

High priority directive

The Energy Committee approved a draft of the directive on the 28th of February. They thereby gave Claude Turmes from the Greens the mandate to negotiate on behalf of the committee with the Council and the Commission with a view to a possible first reading agreement on the file.

The Danish government is trying to convince the other member states that this directive is the best way to solve several problems for instance on climate, energy and economics. Concluding this directive has become one of the highest priorities of their EU-presidency.

“We know that this is a difficult issue for many member states and also something that attracts a lot of attention in the European Parliament. We will do anything we can to have a conclusion on the energy efficiency directive,” Nicolai Wammen, Danish minister of European Affairs says.

Climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard is warning the Danish presidency not to push through on concluding the directive.

“Sometimes if you have a deadline and you really need to do things quickly you might be inclined to give in to much and have a bad result,” she says.

She wants the directive to be implemented in its most original form.

“If you for instance look at the proposal on retrofitting and renovating public buildings, 3 percent each year, the governments are saying that it is too much and that it is too expensive, and asking if we can make it only public buildings or just a proportion of the buildings. But it is also clear that if you delay it too much, you will not get the job effect,” Connie Hedegaard says.

The benefits of decreasing import

The Danish member of the European Parliament Bendt Bendtsen, who is a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, also points out the possibility of becoming less dependent of energy sources from outside of Europe.

Bendt Bendtsen made the initiative report for the directive on energy efficiency.
Bendt Bendtsen made the initiative report for the directive on energy efficiency.

“Europe is becoming increasingly dependent on gas from Putin in Russia, we are becoming increasingly dependent on fossil fuels from the Middle East. And it’s bad to be so dependent on someone – especially some regimes that do not quite have the same values ​​that we have,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

Connie Hedegaard is also focused on the economic advantages of the EU finding ways to avoid importing to much energy.

“Last year Europe imported oil for 315 billion euro. That is almost the same as the size of the Greek dept. The bill came up in one year with 40 percent due to increase in oil prices. If we can become more energy efficient, we can reduce that kind of bills. It would be cheaper for the citizens, it would be cheaper for the companies and at the same time we could create jobs,“ she says.

Agreement has to be found under Danish presidency

Bendt Bendtsen and Connie Hedegaard agree that it will be a challenge for the Danish minister on Climate and Energi to find a compromise.

“He will might have to be less ambitious than he wants to to get a settlement,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

He is afraid that the directive will fall apart if the Danes do not succeed in this matter. And with only three and a half months left of their presidency he urges the Danish government to do everything in their power to conclude the directive.

“It is very important to make the agreement during the Danish EU-presidency. If it is not being implemented under the Danish presidency it will proceed to the Cypriot presidency, and they do not pay as much attention to energy issues,” Bendt Bendtsen says.

The Danish government is very eager to make this happen, but Nicolai Wammen is pointing at a lack of willingness in some member states to bring about a solution as the obstacle right now.

“Can I promise you that we will have a conclusion on this during the Danish presidency? No. Can I on the other hand promise you that we will do anything possible for that to be achieved? Yes,” he says.

EU is negotiating a new controversial fishery agreement with Morocco

The European Parliament ended EU’s fishery agreement with Morocco this December. The main reason was that the occupied Western Sahara was dragged into the agreement – an occupation that the EU does not even accept. Now a new agreement is being negotiated and Western Sahara are hoping for better terms.

By Søren Lund Nielsen

Facts
Most of Western Sahara has been under Moroccan control since 1975 but the Sahrawi rebel national liberation movement Polisario Front is working for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

In December 2011 the European Parliament decided not to renew their fisheries agreement with Morocco. However, after the rejection of a renewal, the Parliament voted a new resolution through about getting a new agreement. This has led to that the European Council now has given the European Commission a mandate to negotiate a new agreement with the Moroccans.

After 37 years of being under Moroccan occupation, the people of Western Sahara once again finds themselves in a waiting position. They are waiting for the outcome of EU’s newly started negotiations with Morocco. Will a new agreement exclude Western Sahara or will it once again play a forced role?

“It should not include Western Sahara territorial waters in this agreement”, says the Sahrawi Minister for Europe from Western Sahara, Mohamed Sidati. “That is violating international law”.

A better policy
A reform of The Common Fisheries Policy is one of the key topics for the current Danish Presidency of the EU. On this, the external policy regarding EU fisheries beyond EU waters are one of the main elements.

Oliver Drewes who is the Spokesman of Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, confirms that the commission is now engaging with Morocco on the basis of that mandate.

“The new agreement will have to meet international legality, environmental sustainability and economic efficiency”, says Oliver Drewes.

This is what the Danish Presidency has negotiated and what they have has told the Commission to do. Another important issue for the Danish Presidency has been to sign a new free trade agreement on agricultural products between Morocco and the EU. The Danish Minister of European Affairs, Nikolai Wammen, finds both the mandate given to negotiate and the free trade deal very important.

“It’s a very clear sign of the EU to the neighborhood policy, and it’s also a clear indication of our support to the Arab spring.” he says.

Insecurity about who is benefitting
According to Scottish MEP and Senior Vice President of the European Parliaments Fisheries Committee, Struan Stevenson from the European Conservatives & Reformists Group, the agreement has given comfort to the Moroccan government.

“We show that we are prepared to cooperate and that has given them comfort not to sign a deal with for instance China, but to come and talk to us again”, says Struan Stevenson.

He voted for a renewal of the agreement in December and told the Parliament that the agreement was benefitting Western Sahara. A Scottish fisherman working in Western Sahara that he knows opened a processing factory in the city of Dakhla where he was applying 600 Sahrawi people.

“I told the Parliament that if they voted against this agreement being renewed 600 Western Saharan people will lose their jobs over night. But the Parliament listened to all this bullshit about that it was not going to benefit the people, which was all misinformation and lies put about by some politicians who wanted to stab the Moroccans in the back”, says Struan Stevenson.

Swedish MEP Isabella Lövin from the Greens Group is however skeptical about this.

“Of course there are jobs but are the ones working the Sahrawi people or Moroccan occupiers? Until I get some credible evidence preferably from Polisario themselves, I don’t think there is a good argument at all”.

And that is not something she will get in the near future. According to Mohamed Sidati it is not true that 600 Sahrawi people is benefitting from the agreement.

“He is lying to the European Parliament. Did he make any investigation in the field to see who is benefitting from this agreement? Did he meet Sahrawi fishermen? Did he speak to the Sahrawi people who are a victim of human rights violation?” he asks.

A matter of international law
Isabella Lövin has been the rapporteur of the external dimension of the new fisheries reform. She has believed that the interest of Morocco was more to legitimize the occupation of Western Sahara then it was economical.

“Morocco has a very large fishing sector so they could utilize for themselves and they have done that before. I don’t think they really need the money”, she says.

In the mandate it says that international law should be respected. Regarding Western Sahara’s resources, former Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs, Hans Correll’s UN Opinion from 2002 concluded that the selling of Western Sahara’s resources was only legal if the population of Western Sahara agrees to and benefits from it, something a European Parliament Legal Opinion from 2009 and numerous statements from Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Western Sahara’s government in exile, conclude they do not.

“I’m quite sure that Morocco will try to prove that it comes to the benefit of people living in Western Sahara, and that there will be nothing about the wishes of the Sahrawi people”, says Isabella Lövin.

EU has to be careful
Sahrawi Minister for Europe, Mohamed Sidati, states that the agreements are not at all benefitting for the Sahrawi people.

“The Moroccans are doing what they want. They are not interested in showing Europe or anybody else how they are exploding this. It’s a matter of bribing and corruption in this cost. There is no control; there is no mechanism to be sure that it is Sahrawian working there. The Sahrawian are out of this issue.” he says.

Mohamed Sidati asks EU to be very careful when it comes to Western Sahara because the status of the territory is not determined yet.

“It should be determined by the Sahrawi themselves.  It didn’t take place yet so let’s respect the international legality. If they want to fish in the Western Sahara waters they can discuss with the Sahrawi themselves to see what is possible. But the EU and Morocco are dealing with something that doesn’t belong to Morocco. International Court of Justice was very clear about that”, he says.

Oliver Drewes doesn’t know how long time it will take before there is a result of the negotiations, but if an agreement is landed without an exclusion of Western Sahara the Polisario Front will speak its case.

“The Sahrawi people will ask for damages and will challenge this agreement everywhere, if it takes place. The EU shouldn’t be a hostile of the Moroccan, Spanish and French police”, he says.

Despite legislation, progress remains slow for women receiving equal pay

In light of women’s day, the European Parliament (EP) is focusing its attention on the 17.5% pay gap that still remains persistently stubborn among all European member states, despite equal pay legislation.

Hanna Fillingham

A recent parliamentary report on equality between men and women in the EU, stated that despite many campaigns and measures, there has only been a marginal reduction in the gender pay gap in the last few years.

There are many reasons causing this pay gap to remain. Mikael Gustafsson, Chair of women’s rights and equality FEMM, stated that “the real barrier for equality in pay is a socio-cultural one”. It is because of stereotyping whereby women and men are concentrated in gender specific sectors. He stated that in order to solve this, “we need to start teaching this at a young age, in the family, at school and university”.  Gustafsson says parental leave is another reason, as well as consistent pay secrecy.

Danish politician and MEP Britta Thomsen believes that tradition is another obstacle. “Women are valued less than men and we pay less for less value, therefore women have to fight for equality”.

Parliament wants tougher Legislative acts

All EU member states follow a body of legislation that was combined into a single directive in 2006 (the first legislation on equal pay was introduced 50 years ago). The directive aims to ensure that men and women receive equal pay for work of equal value. Nonetheless, research from the EU in 2010 and the OECD in 2008 confirms that there is still a gender pay gap in every EU member state.

Matthew Newman, spokesperson to Viviane Reding, Commissioner of Justice, states that although these rules make it easier for victims of discrimination to enforce their rights in courts, the persisting gender pay gap shows that it remains a constant challenge to apply and enforce the existing rules effectively. The multiple causes of the gender pay gap require the efforts of all Member States, social partners and all stakeholders. “We have to work together to promote equal pay for women and men”.

It was evident in a recent debate on gender equality in the EP that tougher legislative acts were favourable. Among those rooting for tighter legislation was Antonia Parvanovia, Vice-President of the Alliance of the Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE). Parvanovia spoke of how women have to work two months more to receive the same payment as men and that if member states are failing, then it should be up to the EU to intervene and tackle the issue.

Gustafsson stated that it is necessary to take a look at the existing legislation and see why it is so less effective in comparison with other fields. “I believe we should make legislation more effective and impose sanctions when needed, because without any sanctions it will not work”.

Citizens also believe in tighter legislation

In connection with International Women’s Day, the EP asked one of the world’s leading market research companies TNS to carry out a telephone survey. Action was very much in favour among citizens with 47% of Europeans in favour of action at EU level, 38% of action at national level and 11% of action at local or regional level. This was conducted on 19 and 20 January 2012 among 25 539 European citizens in the 27 EU Member States, many of the questions focusing on the pay gap.

Legislation works in Sweden

Although the pay gap is existing in all countries, the latest statistics from Eurostat shows the highest proportion of female low-wage earners were in Cyprus, Latvia, the United Kingdom and Lithuania (more than 30% in each of these countries). The proportion was the lowest in Finland, France, Denmark, Belgium, Malta and Sweden (less than 15%).

Sweden remains to be one of the leading countries at tackling this issue. They have strong legislation on gender pay, a good welfare system (women can go to work, the society takes care of children, elderly, ill persons etc) and obligation to transparency in pay.

The success of Sweden has been used to help reinforce movement in other EU countries. At a recent EP workshop focusing on equal pay for equal work, Thomsen spoke that one of the outcomes was to start studying some of the enterprises and tools being used there.

The U.K remains to be one of the slower member states at tightening the pay gap. Matthew Grant, equal pay expert from the U.K believes that this is because of the pay secrecy. “Unless people know they are being underpaid there is little risk of action, and thus little prospect of change. In professional circles there are many unwritten rules of pay secrecy and these barriers need to be broken down”.

What is currently being done

Despite the evident success of legislative enforcement in Sweden and certain other EU countries (France and Spain) , tighter legislation for equal pay remains a slow process. Currently, further awareness based actions are being instigated. Newman spoke of the commission’s currents movements.

“Our actions at European level can contribute to highlighting the importance of equal pay. Equal pay for equal work and work of equal value is one of the five top priorities of the Strategy for equality between women and men for 2010-2015”.

The commission has carried out awareness-raising actions, such as the European Equal Pay and have just started a project to raise awareness on gender equality and equal pay in companies. In the framework of this project, they will offer training to companies on the “business case” for gender equality and on practical ways to address the gender pay gap. They will also support equal pay initiatives in the workplace such as equality labels, ‘charters’, and awards, as well as developing tools for employers to correct unjustified gender pay gaps. Encouraging women to enter non-traditional professions is also on the agenda.

 The future 

Sophia in’t Veld’s report on equality between women and men in the European Union – 2011, called for the European institutions, member states and the social partners to break down the diverse range of causes for this persistent gap, including a European Eula pay target to reduce the pay gap by 10% in each member state.

There is hope that slow and steady progress will be made, but it seems that unless something more prominent like stronger legislation is implemented, the pay gap will continue to decrease at a slow rate.

 

The FEMM committee root for further legislative acts, lead by chairman Mikael Gustafsson