Austria is in the EU head seat in the second half of 2018. Elisabeth Köstinger, the Austrian minister of agriculture, hosted the informal meeting of EU agricultural ministers at the end of September. Her plea to her European colleagues with regard to the CAP reform is to focus on maintaining the second pillar of the policy. “For Austria and its rural development the second pillar is of great importance”, according to Köstinger. “Without the EU and the second pillar we can’t maintain our rural areas.”
The Austrian Mandl family for example changed from a cow dairy to an ecological goat dairy and decided to produce their own goat cheese as an added value product in order to generate enough income from the farm. The necessary investments were partly possible thanks to the financial support of the second pillar of CAP.
During lunch at the goat farm the European agricultural ministers and journalists had a chance to exchange experience and ideas about the CAP reform, the topic on the table during the informal meeting. Most ministers understand the importance of the second pillar for the Autrian agriculture. However, many of them underlined the necessity to focus on the first pillar. “Without a healthy financed first pillar, the second pillar has no function”, according to the Dutch minister Carola Schouten.
No budget cuts
This is also the approach of the European farmer collective Copa-Cogeca. Its vice-president Franz Reisecker (president of the upper Austrian chamber of agriculture) told the European journalists their aim was to convince the EU ministers not to cut the EU agricultural budget and not to agree with co-financing of the first pillar of CAP. “The first pillar has to be a certainty farmers can rely on. Its payment should not be under scrutiny of the national governments”, states Reisecker.
Secure food production
Maintaining sufficient financial means in the first pillar is going to be a challenge for the EU ministers as most countries are not willing to make extra budget available for the EU to spend. Net-paying countries are stressing the importance of getting a substantial benefit back from Europe. With the current budget that will be a major challenge for the EU commissioner Phil Hogan.
“The aim of CAP is to support the agricultural sector in order to maintain vitality of the rural areas and to secure the quality of European food”, Hogan stated after the informal meeting. And even though Hogan supports the importance of the focus on local and regional produce, he emphasis that Europe also has a responsibility when it comes to feeding the growing world population. “We can’t feed the world with local production. We need European commodities to contribute to the challenge of the global food production.”