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The upcoming European Parliament elections, to be held later this week on Friday, 24th May, and taking place across the EU from 23-26 May, will be hugely significant in determining the future direction of Irish and EU agriculture.

The incoming European Parliament will be key decision makers at a time of significant reform and upheaval for the sector. Many major agri-food policies and programmes are currently under revision and there are many new challenges facing the sector which will need an EU wide solution.  Among these issues are:

  • The EU’s multiannual budget from 2021-2027, which will determine the level of funding available for the CAP post-2020. This budget is currently being discussed at a technical level by EU Member States and CAP funding is directly under threat, with proposals for a potential cut of between 5-15%. Such a cut would not only have a significant impact directly on farmer’s direct payments but also impact the types of market management and rural development programmes available and how effective they are. The next Parliament will need to give their consent to the final agreed budget. We must therefore elect MEPs who will defend the current level of CAP funding;
  • The reform of the CAP Post 2020. While the position of the current Parliament’s Agriculture Committee gained a lot of attention, with regard to their proposals to introduce a mandatory flat rate direct payment and a crisis management tool which would place a levy on farmers increasing their production in times of market imbalance, this is not the established position of the European Parliament and can be changed by incoming MEPs. The final policy will then need to be negotiated by Parliament with EU Member States and approved once again by the Parliament Plenary. We must therefore support MEP candidates who promise to back active commercial farmers within the policy reform and ensure the continuation and development of strong market management tools and supports for climate change mitigation and adaption, farmer cooperation, agri-food research and innovation and rural business investment;
  • BREXIT: The MEPs we elect will also play an important role in the Brexit process, as the European Parliament must provide its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement. They will also play a role during the next phase of the process on the future relationship. We must ensure that the MEPs elected understand and appreciate the complexities facing the Irish agri-food sector arising from Brexit and advocate strongly for an outcome that protects farmers and the agri-food sector;
  • International Trade Agreements, currently under negotiation with Indonesia, Mercosur (South America), New Zealand and Australia. An agreement on all of these will need to be approved by the European Parliament.  We need MEPs who will support a strong and fair-trade agenda and who will push for the greater EU market access internationally. Exports are essential for Irish agriculture and accessing new markets is more important than ever as the uncertainty of Brexit hangs over the sector;
  • The EU’s Long-Term Climate Strategy, which has become the priority topic of the election and will likely be a key focus of the new European political leadership. With the EU committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, the incoming European Parliament will likely be at the helm of new Climate legislation and programmes. We will therefore need MEPs who will support commercial progressive agriculture and ensure that the necessary funding and tools are made available for the sector to rise to this challenge;
  • Fragmentation of the EU’s single market, resulting from new barriers to trade such a national decree on mandatory origin labelling in the dairy sector. Our MEPs will be centrally involved in legislation which has the opportunity to reinforce the integrity of the single market and further aid the free movement of goods across the EU;
  • Access to plant protection products and agri-innovation. The European Parliament was central to the debate for the reauthorisation of Glyphosate in 2017. The next Parliament will be so too, as Glyphosate will once again seek reauthorisation in 2022.  In addition to this, legislative decisions will need to be taken on New Breeding Techniques, such as CRISPR, which are considered to be the future of plant breeding. Having MEPs which support science-based decision making will be essential to ensure continued access by Irish farmers to necessary tools and ensure the competitiveness of Irish and EU agriculture in the global market which is already embracing agri-innovation in the plant- breeding sector.

The MEPs we elect next week will be involved in determining the outcome of all of these policies and more. It is therefore vitally important that all of us involved in agri-food sector go to the polls and have our say on the future of EU agriculture.

By Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive