Hogan approved by European Parliament as new Agriculture Commissioner

Juncker’s appointed Commissioner-designates underwent questioning by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in hearings which ran from 29 September until 7 October 2014. During his tenure, Phil Hogan, Agriculture Commissioner-designate, will have to oversee not just the implementation of the recent CAP reform, but also start thinking about the next reform, particularly in the context of the mid-term evaluation of the Multi-Annual Financial Framework (MFF) in 2016 and proposals for the next MFF, due to be tabled by 1 January 2018.

Hogan’s hearing

Hogan’s hearing took place in the morning of 2 October. In keeping with the general structure of the hearings, Hogan was invited to open with a speech and was then subject to a predetermined list of questions from MEPs. MEPs were limited to one minute to pose their question and the response time was capped at two minutes per question.

Hogan’s written response to MEP questions and opening speech were largely confined to the parameters set out for him in Juncker’s mission letter. He focussed on the role of agriculture and its potential to contribute to growth, jobs and food security. In terms of action points, he outlined a few, including:

  • a review of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to ‘see what can be simplified [in keeping with Juncker’s mandate] – without putting into question the effectiveness of the policy, nor its sound financial management’;
  • a simplification and subsidiarity strategy for the CAP; and
  • a review of the direct payments regulation, to cover greening, again in keeping with the instructions in his mission letter.

The lack of attention given to how CAP spending can contribute to environmental objectives in Hogan’s written response and opening speech was to be expected given the content of Juncker’s mission letter to him. However, Hogan’s responses throughout the hearing indicated that he does seem to have a good grasp of many of the relevant issues beyond jobs and growth, the policy mechanisms available both within and beyond the CAP to deal with these and the synergies with other policy areas.

Environmental outlook

Of relevance to the environmental agenda, Hogan chose to highlight his role as Environment Minister and chair of the Environment Council during Irish EU Presidency and the areas of policy he helped to take forward (water pollution, emissions from cars, vans and aviation, 7EAP, among others). When responding to MEPs, he stressed the importance of maintaining natural resources in a sustainable way to ensure the protection of water quality and availability, the need to mitigate climate change by increasing energy efficiency in the sector and cutting emissions and to address soil erosion (particularly as a means of flood protection). He referred to the Water Framework Directive a number of times as an important tool to protect the quality of water and soil in agriculture. In the context of greening and the review of direct payments, Hogan made a point of saying that crop diversification is a good agricultural practice – although he did refrain from further commentary on greening. Hogan also made a point of supporting Juncker’s stance on GMO approval stating that Member States should have a greater say in this process. One significant omission during the three hour hearing was any acknowledgement of the role agriculture can play towards delivering results for biodiversity. Nor did he refer to the provision of public goods as a rationale for the CAP.

Food security and crisis management

Other issues raised during the session related mostly to the economic development and growth of rural areas, along with food security and crisis management in the context of the recent geopolitical conflict between the EU and Russia. Hogan responded, outlining his intentions to support the revival of rural areas by developing rural infrastructure, improving access to EAFRD measures by supporting co-financing, and supporting young farmers. He noted that in the context of the financial crisis, finding the budget to deliver these intentions will prove difficult. On matters of food security, Hogan acknowledged the need for research and innovation and stressed the importance of striking a balance between using land for biofuels and land for food.

He noted the importance of the new Commission structure and the overarching role of the Vice-President of Energy Union which he thought would ensure that there is a cross-cutting debate about how the EU addresses food and energy security. In terms of the Russian embargo, Hogan responded positively to the actions taken by the current Agriculture Commissioner, Mr Dacian Cioloș, but stressed that additional financial support will need to be signed off by DG Budget. In this context he also stressed the importance of market measures to support promotion activities and strengthen the EU agriculture sector.

Reactions

At the close of the hearing MEPs applauded Hogan and approved his appointment the following day. A number of environmental NGOs have raised issues since the hearing. BirdLife questioned what a review of direct payments would actually entail for the environment. The review of direct payments is a contentious issue. As noted by Alan Matthews, Hogan appears to be of the view that ‘the purpose of direct payments was to provide a ‘basic income’ to farmers’, and ‘not that the rationale for public support to farmers is the provision of public goods’. In a press release, EEB suggested that sustainability was a second priority for Hogan after simplification and lamented that ‘Hogan, as a farmer, did not stress the importance of biodiversity.’

Next steps

The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the Commission as a whole at the next Plenary on 22 October.

PUBLICATION DATE

20 Oct 2014

AUTHOR

Henrietta Menadue