§ Margaret Beckett
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary and I represented the United Kingdom at the meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council in Brussels on 27 to 28 November 2002. Ministers responsible for fisheries and farming issues in Scotland and Wales also attended and, together with the Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, joined me at a short bilateral meeting with Commissioner Fischler on Friday morning at which we discussed the Mid-Term Review of the CAP.
On fisheries, the main items discussed by the Council were reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and cod and hake recovery. The Presidency noted the positions of the member states on CFP reform and will now reflect on how to promote agreement at the December Council.
On cod and hake recovery, the Commissioner outlined his revised strategy for securing cod recovery in the light of the recent scientific assessments. He envisages an 80 per cent. reduction in fishing effort for whitefish fishing, 40 per cent. for flatfish, 10 per cent. for industrial fishing and 5 per cent. for nephrops. The UK emphasised its commitment to securing stock recovery. On the other hand we emphasised our commitment to finding a package of measures which would enable sustainable fishing activity to continue while still achieving recovery. We stressed in particular the importance of the burdens resulting from recovery action falling equitably on all fleets whose activities impact on cod stocks. There will be further technical discussion at official level before the December Council.
The Commissioner also made a first presentation of his proposed action plans on the social, economic and regional implications of EU fleet restructuring and on 316W how to reduce discards of unwanted fish. These will return to the Council for further consideration after study by officials.
The Council reached political agreement, by qualified majority, on rules for the authorisation and labelling of genetically modified (GM) food and feed. This was a difficult discussion. I eventually voted against the final compromise because it contained provisions regarding the adventitious presence and labelling of GM organisms that are neither practicable nor enforceable. I also had concerns about the legal base on which the proposal rested.
There was a brief discussion of the measures forming part of a package addressing hygiene rules and their enforcement in respect of food of animal origin. Further work is planned at official level before the December Council.
The Commission gave its regular report on BSE in the EU and reported contacts with the French Government over its plans in respect of Specified Risk Material (SRM) controls on sheep spinal cord. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary restated our concerns about the proposed French measures and strongly underlined our view that member states should not take unilateral action that goes beyond existing EU legal provisions and scientific advice.
The Council continued its consideration of the Mid-Term Review of the CAP with a discussion concentrating on modulation, decoupling and cross-compliance. I welcomed the broad thrust of the Commission's proposals while noting that the EU needed to start work quickly on the detailed legislative texts which the Commission had promised for January. I recalled our opposition to certain features of the Commission's modulation model, including its unfair redistribution of modulated funds. I gave strong support to the principle of decoupling aid from production which would encourage farmers to focus more on markets and at the same time strengthen the EU's hand in the WTO negotiations.
Under other business, there was discussion of animal welfare in third countries and the situation in Spain following the sinking of the oil tanker 'Prestige'. The Council also approved a state aid to Greek cotton producers.