Last year, at one of the world’s biggest and most representative agricultural conferences – the Forum for the Future of Agriculture held annually in Brussels – the then Commission vice president, Dutch Socialist Franz Timmermans, spoke of progressing with his green deal proposals, including arbitrarily imposing dramatic reductions in plant protection products with absolutely no impact assessment or consultation with industry participants.

This year, Timmermans is gone, and in a conciliatory message to this year’s conference held last week in Brussels, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, went out of her way to assure farmers that she appreciated their work in providing safe, nutritious food for Europe’s population during the pandemic and the war in Ukraine.

She stressed that food security for Europe was and would continue to be a priority, and that farmers’ administrative burdens would be eased. All of this came just a few days after the full summit of the EU leaders.

Ursula von der Leyen added that she had set up a special project team, led by a German professor, to examine EU agriculture and future policy.

Agricultural programme

The project team is due to report back in the summer, and its report will form the basis of the agricultural programme for the next commission taking office at the end of the year.

This is a highly ambitious timetable and the assurance that it would set the next programme of the commission’s work carries little weight unless Mrs von der Leyen continues in office as the next commission president – a prospect which it should be said is looking increasingly likely.

Side-by-side with this new approach to agricultural policy was the first declaration I have ever seen by a full summit of EU leaders that member states should have flexibility in giving new state aid to their agriculture. In the context of the traditional CAP, this is a real change and one that poses both opportunities and challenges for Ireland and us as farmers. With a budgetary surplus and a cost base for farmers that has, as we said last week, put us at a severe disadvantage vis-à-vis other countries, this new latitude should be grasped with both hands.