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The incoming Polish Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, has been formally approved by the European Parliament (although with some reservations) and looks set to take up office on the 2 December in the new Commission College; the start date has been set back by a month due to three other Commissioners failing to gain the Parliament’s confidence.

Over the course of two hearings before the European Parliament’s Agriculture and Environment Committees, as well as through a series of written questions, Wojciechowski has provided an insight into his priorities for the coming 5 years.

CAP Reform

Wojciechowski has been mandated by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to carry on with the current reform process (not to scrape Hogan’s proposal and start afresh). However, he has said that he is “open to good proposals that may improve the CAP.”

Some of the changes he is looking to make to the proposal include:

  • Promoting an “even more balanced distribution of direct support”, meaning he would like to see full internal and external convergence of direct support, so that the payment per hector is the same across all of Europe. This means that funding would be redistributed between EU member states (from older member states to newer ones- Ireland already has the average payment and therefore does not stand to lose nor gain) and within member states through removing the systems of historical entitlements (currently in place in 7 EU countries, including Ireland).
  • In particular Wojciechowski has highlighted his desire to focus on supporting smaller farms which he argues are more environmentally friendly and better for animal welfare standards. He would achieve this through the mandatory capping of payments at €100,000 per farm and redistribution of funds.
  • He is committed to making the CAP “greener” andsupports 20% of the direct payment budget being earmarked for eco-schemes, which he argued should include practices such as better crop rotation and appropriate tillage management, extending ecological focus areas, reduced pesticide use and taking action on animal welfare.
  • He pledged to “defend a strong budget for agriculture”, but described the draft budget (which included a proposed 10% cut to CAP funding) as a “good basis for discussion.”

Animal Welfare

Animal Welfare was cited as a key priority for him. During his time as a MEP, Wojciechowski was chair of the Parliament’s Intergroup on the welfare and conservation of animals and as a member of the European Court of Auditors (2016-2019), he conducted an audit on animal welfare in the EU.

Wojciechowski expressed concern about “critical areas of implementation of current animal welfare rules in the EU”. He sees a direct correlation between the level of animal welfare and the need for the systematic use of antibiotics in farm animals. He spoke about less density in animal farming, as well as less summer grazing. However, argued that the most effective system is to encourage farmers to improve animal welfare standards through voluntary actions.

On the topic of live animal exports however he was particularly strong, stating that he wants to encourage alternatives, namely using EU funding to encourage farmers to produce for the local meat industry. He specifically highlighted Irish live exports as being questionable from an animal welfare perspective, arguing that the transports times over seas were too long. 

Study on European Agriculture

Calling it one of his first actions he would undertake once in office, Wojciechowski  intends to conduct a thorough evaluation to “diagnose” the state of European agriculture, including studying how things have changed over the last decade, such as the number of farms in the EU, the number of cultivated fields, and the ages of farmers across the bloc. This study he hopes will inform a “long-term vision for European agriculture” with goals stretching to 2050, which would include targets on the number and size of EU farmers and a plan to keep young people in the countryside.

Organic Farming

Wojciechowski has stressed his support for organic farming, and its important role “in order to address climate change and reach the objective of zero pollution” and has promised to come up with a “European Action Plan to promote organic farming.”

In addition to this, he pledged to focus on reducing overall pesticide use, through the implementation of bans of certain pesticides (heavily indicating that Glyphosate/Round Up is the intended target) and utilisation of funding and tools under the CAP.

By Alison Graham – European Affairs Executive