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Procedure : 2004/2259(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A6-0040/2006

Texts tabled :

A6-0040/2006

Debates :

PV 23/03/2006 - 6
CRE 23/03/2006 - 6

Votes :

PV 23/03/2006 - 11.15
CRE 23/03/2006 - 11.15
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P6_TA(2006)0116

Debates
Thursday, 23 March 2006 - Brussels OJ edition

6. Promotion of crops for non-food purposes (debate)
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A6-0040/2006) by Mr Parish, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on the promotion of crops for non-food purposes (2004/2259(INI)).

 
  
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  Neil Parish (PPE-DE), rapporteur. Mr President, I am delighted to be able to present my report on biofuels. It is an own-initiative report from the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development. It is great to see the Commissioner here and I would like to thank her and her staff for the help they have given me while compiling this report.

The exciting thing about biofuels, biomass and biogas is that there is a great future for it. When you hear the President of the United States say during the State of the Union Address that the American economy can no longer be an oil-based mineral economy, then it shows that things are changing, and here in Europe we have great possibilities. Historically, farmers have always provided fuel for transport back in the days of horses, so what is the problem now with supplying fuel?

With the new payments for agriculture, the new reforms of the CAP, the decoupled payment and the single farm payment breaking the link between production and subsidy, we also need to find new markets for our products and that is where, as I said, cereals and oil seed rape for bio-diesel and wheat for bioethanol come into play. We can also be sure that we can create more biomass. In many countries of Europe you actually see that there are forests being used effectively. Where there are no forests, then we can grow willows and miscanthus to make sure that we can produce energy supply.

Some of these can be big projects used for power stations, others can be small projects for local heating plants and for schools and hospitals. There can be a lot of flexibility. When it comes to not only fuel but energy as a whole, biofuel and bioenergy may not be the total answer, but it is one of the answers. Where, for instance, Russia could possibly turn off our gas supply at any time, I think we have to look to alternatives. The one thing we must always emphasise with all this is that these types of fuels and biomass are very environmentally friendly. That is the great thing: not only is it good for farmers, but it is good for the environment.

We have the present generation of fuels and biomass available, but we are also seeing new generations coming on and we will see bioplastics coming into place. I think there is a big future for that. We have seen a new process of making paper from straw, again using much more environmentally friendly chemicals. Out of a ton of straw you can create half a ton of paper pulp and a quarter of a ton of bioethanol. So it shows, as I said, that we are moving forward with all these projects.

To mention the common agricultural policy, we have set-aside land on which we are growing nothing. Some set-aside land is very effective for environmental enhancement, but I think we should look very positively at using other set-aside land for fuel.

On biofuel, Volkswagen in Germany has been very sympathetic to mixing fuels and creating engines that will support biofuels, but we need to put pressure on the car companies to be much more sympathetic to this. I also think we need to mix fuels much more in order to get a quality of fuel that is good for motor engines.

Another point about putting land into production for biofuels and biomass, is that it keeps that land in production, so that in the future if we were to need it for food supply, then that it is in production and we could switch it back to food. This is a very great bonus.

Finally, I would like to thank all the Members of the Committee on Agriculture and of Parliament for their support. I have visited many countries to see what is going on. We have an exciting time in front of us. Commissioner, I think now is the time for Parliament and the Commission, along with Member States, to really pull together to establish the tax incentives and get everything in place so that we can deliver a very good biofuel/biomass policy for Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. Mr President, over the past six months, energy has very much become the topic of the moment. This was confirmed by the Heads of State at Hampton Court, and this is a window of opportunity that we simply must seize and that is what the Commission is doing.

I have been very encouraged to see that the European Parliament is having the same positive approach and doing exactly the same. As Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, the use of non-food crops is an area of particular interest. I see here a very interesting new outlet for our agricultural sector and an interesting source of income, not only for farmers but for the whole rural economy. I therefore heartily welcome the report that we will be discussing today. Its timing is excellent and it makes a valuable contribution to the debate about the non-food use of agricultural crops. I would specifically like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Parish, and the members of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, for all the work they have been doing.

The Commission has recently issued two communications with the aim of encouraging the use of biomass: the biomass action plan and the European strategy for biofuels. The Commission’s framework programmes for research have for many years supported pioneering work into renewable bio-resources, including plastics, agri-chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The seventh framework programme for research will place a particular emphasis on the development of sustainable non-food applications. As well as offering new opportunities to farmers, the development of non-food applications for agricultural raw materials is very much in line with the whole Lisbon Strategy. The approach is innovative and represents a high level of European added value.

On the use of biomass for energy, Eurostat and the Joint Research Centre estimate that the potential for biomass production to meet our targets for 2010 is there. The CAP reform gives farmers incentives to respond to the growing demand. As well as our specific support for energy crops of EUR 45 per hectare, farmers can use set-aside land to grow non-food crops. Last year about 900 000 hectares of set-aside land were used for growing biomass for energy purposes. The sugar reform has now made sugar beet eligible for all bio-energy support schemes.

On the processing side, however, major progress and investments are still needed. In our new rural development programming period we have the opportunity to support investments and other actions in favour of biomass for energy and other non-food purposes. Cohesion policy can also play an important role.

As far as the environment is concerned, I agree that we must keep a careful eye on any unwanted impact from the development of the non-food sector. This must be carefully monitored.

The use of biomass is on the increase in all regions of the world, in particular for biofuels. This can clearly have economic, social and environmental benefits, but we must also be sure to maintain a proper balance between the production of food and non-food. We do not wish to develop the non-food sector in such a way as to have a negative impact on our agrifood industry or on food prices for consumers, either in the European Union or in the developing countries. This is again something that we must monitor carefully.

I am looking forward to a discussion here in the European Parliament on the ways of using renewable energies in a more active way.

 
  
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  Agnes Schierhuber, on behalf of the PPE-DE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by expressing my sincere thanks to the rapporteur for his own-initiative report, which shows great commitment, and also for taking the trouble to travel to various Member States and see for himself the kind of possibilities already existing in the renewable raw materials sector.

As the Commissioner mentioned, over the last six months, energy has become the most important issue of the day. An environmentally friendly, economical mix of all energy sources is indispensable for Europe. Renewable raw materials and renewable energy could also form the mainstays of this mix. Alongside wind, water, photovoltaic cells and biogas, this particular sector of renewable energy provides for basic needs in the fields of building and insulating materials, and raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry.

Producing food and crops for the generation of energy was common practice for centuries. The use of fossil fuels on a massive scale took over from the energy for our draught animals, which was derived from plants. The production of renewable raw materials for energy purposes is of fundamental importance to European agriculture and forestry, and to rural areas. It has opened up new sources of income and also made an essential contribution to not only maintaining existing employment but also creating new jobs in rural areas.

The EU would do well to regard renewable sources of energy as an important factor in energy use, in order to reduce its own dependence on international energy producers and, particularly, on politically unstable regions. Many thanks and sincere congratulations to the rapporteur.

 
  
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  Stéphane Le Foll, on behalf of the PSE Group. (FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like, first of all, to join with all the others who have just spoken in congratulating Mr Parish on the work he has done and to say to you that I am completely in agreement with the objectives set out in this report.

Firstly, that of taking an overall view of the environmental question: bioenergy, biomass and biodegradable matter. Secondly, that of diversifying our sources of energy given that we know that we have to anticipate that fossil fuel will run out in 40 or 50 years’ time and that we must fight with all our might against the greenhouse effect. Thirdly, and this above all since it concerns agriculture, that of offering new market outlets for our European agriculture.

Having said that, I would like to add that this can be done only on two conditions, Commissioner. Firstly, biofuels do not, on their own, constitute the whole of the agriculture policy and, in the context of this agriculture policy, we have to maintain two pillars: one linked to production and one linked to territorial and social cohesion. Secondly, the new policy aimed at bioenergy cannot specifically have any meaning unless it is fully part of a political process and willingness to make the agricultural model a model for sustainable development. I believe, therefore, that we have to commit ourselves to considering the new models that allow for diversification of agricultural production while at the same time guaranteeing a sound ecological balance for all of our territories.

 
  
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  Willem Schuth, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, rapporteur, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by offering my sincere congratulations to Mr Parish on this balanced report, which my group expressly supports. The development of non-food crops offers EU farmers the opportunity of developing new markets, and therefore support and research are vital in this field. The use of renewable raw materials and renewable energy production both represent an enormous potential for European rural areas. I hail from the rural German Land of Lower Saxony. For us in Lower Saxony, in particular, bioenergy is vital as an alternative source of income for farmers and foresters. In some fields, especially biogas, for which we have around 430 plants, we are already leading the field in Europe.

At this point, I should like to say that I also expressly welcome the Commission’s latest initiatives in this field: the Biomass Action Plan and the Commission Communication on Biofuels. Parliament will renew its efforts with regard to the EU Strategy for Biofuels within the framework of an own-initiative report. The Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, too, will draw up an opinion on this. As draftsman of this opinion, I shall be glad to be able to build upon the good work accomplished by my colleague Mr Parish.

 
  
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  Friedrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. – (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, it is remarkable that, when we talk of a supply crisis, everyone thinks of President Putin turning off our gas tap. No one mentions the fact that Europe as a region is among the world’s largest importers of food and that, if we maintain this standard of living, we shall barely be able to subsist.

When we discuss alternative sources of income, it is also interesting to hear that the cultivation of sugar for consumption, that is, as a foodstuff, generates little or no income; so why does the cultivation of sugar for bioethanol generate income? There are some inconsistencies here. I should now like to discuss the issue of ecology: what is the situation as regards the use of genetic engineering in the cultivation of renewable raw materials? Do we not have the problem of contamination, that is, the problem of coexistence, here? Yes, we do. The cultivation of renewable raw materials also involves methods that are not ecologically sound; it is not necessarily environmentally friendly.

On the subject of greenhouse gases, it has to be said that these are also kept in check by food production, so we could do with a little more moderation and a little less of the enthusiasm shown by the rapporteur, and also a little more concentration on the renewable raw materials deriving from waste products. It is also interesting to hear that grass is put to better use when recovered as biogas than as milk.

If we wish to use recovery, therefore, it is important to recover straw, wood or hedges, but tying up land for renewable raw materials that we need for food is a major problem that calls for less enthusiasm and more precision.

 
  
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  Bairbre de Brún, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group. (The speaker spoke Irish)

I would like to welcome the report’s call for fuel tax exemptions to promote the production of biofuels. Such a policy would move us closer to the EU’s target of 5.75% for the consumption of biofuels.

The active development of renewable energy will go some way towards addressing the fossil fuel crisis. It can lead to environmental improvements, although I agree with both the rapporteur and the Commissioner here this morning that we need to monitor this environmental impact. It can, and will, also bring economic benefits through developing new technologies, job creation and retooling in the agricultural sector, in particular where sugar factories are earmarked for closure.

(The speaker spoke Irish)

 
  
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  Jeffrey Titford, on behalf of the IND/DEM Group. Mr President, I am a supporter of the development of biofuels as one of the many answers national governments need to the impending energy crisis. Since the European Union has so profoundly failed to protect my country from price-fixing by European energy companies, the need becomes even greater.

However, I do not believe in pan-European actions on these matters, particularly in relation to setting obligatory targets. The EU’s obsession with one-size-fits-all policy-making leads to the encouragement of quick-fix solutions from national governments. We are going down that route in Britain with wind turbine technology. Our countryside is in the process of being turned into a monstrous Meccano set for the sake of meeting renewable energy targets dreamed up by the European Commission.

The other problem is the propensity for the EU to bring in legislative regimes well ahead of the ability of national governments to create the necessary infrastructure to support them. Again my country has suffered, not least with the growing mountains of refrigerators awaiting disposal.

Interest groups in favour of bio-diesel development should lobby the national government, not Brussels. Our own government is much better placed to come up with suitable proposals for encouraging the sensible development of biofuels in Britain than the EU, which is likely to introduce a regime that will not suit us all. Each nation’s needs are different and it is about time the EU took that on board.

 
  
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  Bruno Gollnisch (NI). – (FR) Mr President, the excellent report by Mr Parish on the promotion of crops for non-food purposes puts the problem well: at a time when the price of oil is constantly rising and when gas and oil reserves are diminishing owing to the growing needs of developing countries, it is useful to make provision for alternative energy sources.

Biofuels, the development of which we have long supported, meets, although only partially, the needs of the agricultural economy: an improvement in the environment through the reduction in greenhouse gases, we are told, the production of renewable energy sources that foster energy independence, job creation in rural areas, the balancing of territories against rural desertification and the preparing of set-aside land for crops for non-food purposes.

Nonetheless, there remain some questions. How are we to achieve the ambitious goal of 5.75% of the market in 2010 for biofuels when France has as yet achieved only 1%? Moreover, if the price per barrel continues to rise, biofuels will become competitive and the problem of tax exemptions will become pointless, and if not, will the Member States accept a loss of revenue amounting to several hundreds of millions of euros? Finally, with the abolition of export refunds in 2013, decided on at the WTO, and the lowering of domestic support, cereal growers will turn more towards non-food production, which is not their main business.

 
  
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  Markus Pieper (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, there is no doubt that biomass belongs to the future of European energy supply. In supporting it, however, we must not repeat the mistakes of the past, by which I mean, primarily, that we have to give the market more of a chance.

For this reason, I ask that an EU internal market for biomass or long-term subsidies not be introduced immediately. We must not go back down the route of farm subsidies, only to realise a few years later that our well-meaning policy is incompatible with WTO requirements. Instead, we must recognise that rising oil prices make the cultivation of biomass interesting even without state support.

Only where the critical mass for market integration is lacking should political support be introduced, and then, support programmes must be for a limited period and on a decreasing basis, and progress must be permitted. Genetic engineering springs to mind: particularly in the case of energy crops, this has the potential to bring vital economic benefits in global competition.

Therefore, there are good free-market prospects for renewable raw materials in Europe. Politicians must supply the framework to enable this delicate plant to become a strong energy source.

 
  
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  María Isabel Salinas García (PSE). – (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, I too would like firstly to congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Parish, on the work he has done in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

The resolution that the European Parliament is going to issue today praises the Commission’s initiatives to promote non-food crops and, given their crucial importance, calls upon it to implement them as soon as possible.

Initiatives such as the biomass plan or the new legislation on biofuels are awaited with particular interest in depressed rural areas and those experiencing specific difficulties. For example, in my country, Spain, non-food crops are in fact seen as a genuine socio-economic solution for those areas which have already been affected by the reduction or disappearance of indigenous crops, as in the case of the recent COMs in cotton and beet.

In order for these crops to be a genuine alternative, however, we must guarantee their viability by means of a policy on prices and fiscal incentives.

The Commissioner is well aware that it is not just a question of offering solutions to farmers in difficulties. Through this new initiative, our environment will be improved as a result of the contribution of clean fuels. Business will be done, but at the same time we will be combating depopulation. In other words, we will all be winners.

I would therefore like to take this opportunity to ask the Commission whether it intends to listen to this Parliament and, as our resolution states, draw up a recommendation to the Member States on fiscal incentives and reductions of duties and taxes.

As we are all very well aware, an action of this type, which would not be legislative, would be of great assistance in terms of promoting the use of renewable energy and stimulate the cultivation of the raw materials that make it possible.

I believe that we must not miss this opportunity. The extremely important energy debate is opening up at a time when we are in the midst of discussions in this Parliament.

 
  
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  James Hugh Allister (NI). – Mr President, the momentum building behind green energy, combined with the pressure on traditional agriculture, unite to offer agricultural production for non-food purposes as an alternative for some, as they consider necessary diversification.

EU-wide experiences of the use of biomass for producing energy, involving both renewable raw materials and organic farm waste, should be pooled so that the most viable initiatives can be replicated across Europe.

My government recently announced its intention to develop Northern Ireland as a centre of excellence in alternative energy. The EU should financially support that endeavour. Tax incentives, increased aid in respect of land use to grow energy crops, and the focused use of Structural Funds: all have a part to play.

Likewise, planning policies must help, not impede, progress. In my constituency, an anaerobic digestion plant was recently forced to close because of rigid and unnecessary planning restrictions. We clearly need a joined-up approach by various departments.

 
  
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  Duarte Freitas (PPE-DE).(PT) I also wish to congratulate Mr Parish on his report, which I welcome. This extremely important initiative highlights a problem that all of us must endeavour to combat.

Firstly, I feel that crops for non-food purposes can make a significant contribution to Europe's energy sector, which is the subject of ongoing analysis. It is increasingly important to ensure energy security in the EU and greater autonomy in relation to the world outside the EU. I feel, in this regard, that the use of biofuels could make a positive contribution. Furthermore, I also believe that the promotion of crops for non-food purposes will be of great benefit from an agricultural point of view, especially with regard to energy crops, which could bring fresh hope for the future of European farming, and to the much-misunderstood CAP.

The search for alternatives to keep agriculture alive is of urgent importance, given the bleak future forecast for Europe’s food production, which faces competition from countries with fewer social and environmental concerns and where low cost production is permissible.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (PSE). – (HU) Mr President, on behalf of the new Member States, including Hungary, I would like to thank Mr Parish, who noticed that new Member States cannot receive financial assistance from EU sources for the cultivation of plants for energy purposes. Therefore, the request expressed in the report, that the European Commission eliminate the obstacles to plant cultivation for energy purposes in new Member States and facilitate assistance from the European Union, has particular importance.

Another very positive element is that according to the report, assistance must be granted outside of the SAPS system, independently of the ‘phasing in’ related to direct payments. The report of the European Parliament supports the interests of new Member States unequivocally, and therefore I ask Mrs Fischer Boel and the Commission to consider these proposals, because assistance for energy purposes is extremely important in the new Member States, too, in order to ensure jobs.

 
  
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  Jan Tadeusz Masiel (NI). – (PL) Mr President, the idea of promoting crops for non-food purposes is excellent and very timely. It is timely because, since joining the European Union, Polish farmers have experienced first-hand what limiting milk production or liquidating sugar production means, and that subsidy levels are not equal across the Union.

The production of biomass and bio fuels in particular will not only improve the state of the environment and increase employment in rural areas, but will also preserve human dignity by increasing the income of whole families. Rather than worrying about the falling price of porkers, farmers will be able to celebrate the rising fuel prices. Until now, farmers have protected us from the threat of hunger. Now they can save us from an energy crisis and breathe new life into the common agricultural policy.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Jeggle (PPE-DE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to start by offering my sincere thanks to our rapporteur, Mr Parish, who has done a very good job in producing this own-initiative report.

In view of current events, mixtures of all energy sources and the share of total energy demand accounted for by renewable energy are the most topical issues of the day. We must seize this opportunity in the interests of the widespread use of non-food crops. Following the agricultural reforms, farmers can cultivate energy crops on set-aside land, but alongside food production, which remains a priority.

This initial step must be followed up, however, which means that we need to strengthen research and development, extending to modern economic biotechnology. What are important are market-integration aids and concentration on competitiveness, which means that it is important to give the promotion of bioenergy from non-food crops, which makes sense from an ecological point of view, a basis that is economically viable in the long term. We still need more jobs in rural areas.

 
  
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  Mariann Fischer Boel, Member of the Commission. Mr President, I would like to thank you once again for the valuable contribution that the European Parliament has been making to this very important area. I am very impressed with the overwhelming support that I have seen here in Parliament today.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. The year 2006 will be particularly challenging, with a number of key issues to be addressed: firstly, the biofuel targets in the context of the review of the Biofuels Directive; secondly, the possibility of increasing the blend of biofuels into conventional fuels – work is already under way to review the Fuel Quality Directive; and thirdly, the energy crop regime, which we will also review this year. All the different actions are set out in the biomass action plan and the biofuels strategy, which must be put on track this year. There is plenty to do and we are very dedicated. This is why we have set up a new unit in my department with special responsibility for biomass and biofuels.

We will also continue to find ways of encouraging the enormous economic, social and environmental potential of non-food applications, particularly those highlighted in the report.

I firmly believe that the whole economy stands to gain from the contribution which renewable bio-resources can make to ensuring a sustainable future for Europe.

(Applause)

 
  
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  President. The debate is closed.

The vote will take place today at 11 a.m.

Written statement (Rule 142)

 
  
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  Gábor Harangozó (PSE). – The promotion of crop production for non-food purposes is a unique opportunity that can potentially bring considerable social, economic and environmental benefits for European farmers and rural economies. As a matter of fact, the report clearly highlights the potential offered by the developments and the investments in the non-food crops sector for farmers. Developing the non-food crops sector is very likely to have a positive impact on farmers that undergo the consequences of the sugar CMO reform. We should therefore support the development of this sector as it brings alternative productions for European farmers under competition pressure. Moreover, it is clear that supporting crop production for non-food purposes is in line with the targets set by the Lisbon and Gothenburg strategies for the development and use of renewable energies, as crop production for energy purposes brings a large potential in order to meet Union’s energy needs.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: MR ONESTA
Vice-President

 
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