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Elizabeth Truss - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My Hon Friend, the Minister of State for Farming, Food and Marine Environment (George Eustice), represented the UK at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council on 22 October in Luxembourg.

Two fisheries items were discussed. On Baltic Sea Fishing Opportunities in 2016, unanimous political agreement was reached after a long discussion. The other item involved an exchange of views between Member States and the Commission on the annual fisheries consultations with Norway, where Commissioner Vella noted the points made by Member States and agreed to take them into account.

As part of the fisheries items, the Commission also agreed to increase quota banking rates including for the UK priority stocks (mainly mackerel), in the light of the ongoing Russian import restrictions.

The main agenda item for agriculture was on climate smart agriculture. A presentation was given by academics from Belgium and Luxembourg on how to mitigate the climate change impacts of agriculture. The Commission highlighted the role that Greening in the CAP has in reducing agricultural emissions. All Member States intervened to highlight the importance of mitigating climate change through agriculture. The UK set out its ongoing support for this initiative through significant investments in Agri-Tech, precision farming and gathering and using data on farm.

The following were AOB items on the agenda;

- The Netherlands proposed establishing a temporary working group on sustainable plant protection products. This would be to develop an action plan for the delivery of Integrated Pest Management and to improve regulations for low risk products. It was supported by 13 Member States including the UK. Additionally, the UK argued that the group should focus on better procedures and incentives, and pushed the need for a review of pesticide legislation.

- France, supported by Ireland, urged the Commission to publish the reports on milk products for infants and sports people, which are late coming from the Commission. The Commission promised to publish these in the near future.

- Germany highlighted the discussion on Anti-Microbial Resistance at the G7, as well as their national law on reducing the use of antibiotics. Commissioner Andriukaitis acknowledged this is a priority and agreed the EU needed to share its best practice globally.

- The Slovenians presented a paper which focussed on how to maintain a GMO free Europe, which led to a number of interventions. The UK, which was supported by Spain, argued for a rigorous science-based approach. Commissioner Andriukaitis intervened, highlighting the policy incoherence of 19 Member States with a GM cultivation ban but opposing the legal basis in the GM food and feed proposal. He argued that a switch to non-GMO feed was unrealistic and would lead to a 10% increase in costs. Following this, Germany asked the Commission whether new breeding techniques fell within the GMO definition. The UK agreed that there was a lack of legal clarity which was having a negative impact on industry, but also cautioned the Commission not to rush to regulate.

- The Czech Republic reported on a recent Visegrad 4 (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) meeting which also included Austria, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Romania on land and soil management, dairy prices and food chain fraud.

Rory Stewart - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

I attended the EU Environment Council in Luxembourg on 26 October.

After adopting the agenda, Ministers set out preliminary positions on the reform of the EU Emissions Trading System for the period 2021 2030 signalling the range of issues to be resolved. The UK set out its preference for a 'tiered' approach to using free allocation of allowances to mitigate the risk of carbon leakage in energy intensive industries. This was supported by France, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

Ministers debated the phasing out of environmentally harmful subsidies and the implementation of environmental policies and legislation. Most Member States recognised the importance of addressing environmentally harmful subsidies. The UK highlighted the importance of tackling fossil fuel subsidies and pointed to the recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy as important steps. All Member States recognised that better implementation of existing legislation was vital to reducing costs and improving environmental outcomes. The UK stressed that the European Semester needs to remain focussed on jobs and growth. The Presidency will summarise the discussion into a report for the next General Affairs Council with a view to preparing the European Council in March 2016.

The Council exchanged views on putting into practice the recently adopted United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Member States generally agreed that implementation would require existing EU policies to be harnessed and adapted to align with the 2030 goals, rather than new policies or structures. The UK called for the EU to focus on those areas where it can add the most value.

Under the AOB items, the Presidency and Commission summarised progress made at recent key climate change meetings. The Netherlands presented the Make it Work initiative for better regulation, led jointly with the UK and Germany. This initiative aims to improve the quality of legislation across the environmental acquis.

Under a final AOB item, Member States discussed developments concerning the car sector and real driving emissions. Ministers emphasised the need to act quickly and effectively to resolve the issue of manipulation of emission testing, because of the effect on air pollution and the need to restore public confidence. The Commission stated its determination to play an active part in resolving the problem.

Over lunch, Ministers for both Environment and Development exchanged views on common challenges and integrated approaches towards the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.


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