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Postupak : 2009/2237(INI)
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P7_TA(2010)0302

Debates
Monday, 6 September 2010 - Strasbourg OJ edition

17. Fair revenues for farmers: A better functioning food supply chain in Europe (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the report by Mr Bové, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, on fair revenues for farmers: A better functioning food supply chain in Europe (COM(2009)0591 - 2009/2237(INI)) (A7-0225/2010).

 
  
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  José Bové, rapporteur. (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to begin by thanking all my colleagues from the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and especially the shadow rapporteurs, for their support in this task.

This report, like the one by Mr Lyon, is part of our major debate on the reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP). We have managed to reach a large number of compromises, which have been adopted by a large majority in our group – by 32 votes to 4.

I believe that our message to the Commission is a powerful one: we all want greater transparency in the food chain and legislation that guarantees fair competition between farmers and all operators in the food chain. We also want concrete measures, in Europe and elsewhere, to combat speculation and abuses of market power and to safeguard farmers’ revenues.

I am surprised that, on the initiative of one or two political groups in this House, we are being asked to vote tomorrow on a long list of separate votes, which go against the powerful and consensual message that we adopted by a large majority in committee.

Could it be that events over the summer have made you change your minds? I rather think that the intense lobbying carried out in recent days by the large-scale distribution sector and certain operators in the agri-food industry is the reason for the excessive number of separate votes. In any case, I cannot imagine, ladies and gentlemen, that you would give in to such pressure in order to weaken our common message.

Our committee has taken stock of the crisis affecting European farmers. It intends to propose concrete, strong measures: in less than 10 years, the Union has lost 3.5 million farming jobs. It is a massacre on a terrible scale. Bulgaria, for example, has lost one in two farmers. In 2009, revenues plummeted. In France and Germany, farmers have lost 20% of their revenue on average, and in Hungary, they have lost more than 35%. Farming and rural communities are in danger of disappearing.

Forced as it was by the exasperation of farmers and by the demonstrations of dairy cattle breeders, in December 2009, the European Commission published a communication entitled, ‘A better functioning food supply chain in Europe’. The latter shows that, between 1995 and 2005, the proportion of the added value of the food chain that went to agricultural producers decreased from 31% to 24%. The prices paid to farmers are falling in virtually every sector, without European consumers benefiting as a result.

The Commission says that these problems are linked to increased concentration in the wholesale, processing and distribution sectors, which impose their will on unorganised producers.

The Commission is concerned about the lack of transparency in relation to pricing and margins. It recognises the difficulty in obtaining precise and reliable data, and admits that it does not have the information it needs to adapt its policies quickly and effectively.

To remedy this, I propose that the Commission creates a European farm prices and margins observatory, on the model of that which exists in the United States. This body will be responsible for defining European farmers’ production costs. It will tell us the real costs of a litre of milk, a kilo of wheat or a kilo of beef from the moment it leaves the farm. This information will serve as a basis for negotiations between farmers and the other operators in the food chain. This body will also be responsible for assessing which sectors claim all the added value, to the detriment of producers and consumers.

The European Commission would thus be able to identify which operators are abusing the balance of power and abusing their dominant position. It also seems crucial to make the 20 largest European companies draft an annual report on their market share and the internal margins they generate.

Transparency poses no threat to the market economy. On the contrary, it is an absolute necessity in order to prevent the abuses that have been observed in agriculture and in many other sectors, in particular, that of finance.

Who can claim that, when farmers sell their milk or their meat, they are on an equal footing with multinationals, which influence commodity price building on the global markets? The balance of power is completely unbalanced, and some would say unfair.

In order to restore the balance, a first emergency measure would be to allow farmers to come together within producers’ organisations. The second, additional measure involves prohibiting selling of goods below purchase price at Community level.

Forced discounts, subsequent alterations to contract terms, and unjustified listing fees are a common occurrence. They are hitting farmers and the thousands of small and medium-sized processing companies hard, because they have to go through the large-scale distribution sector in order to sell their products. The European Commission must take stock of the extent of these anti-economic practices, and it must take the measures required to stop them.

Lastly, speculation on agricultural commodities is a scourge. Financiers and speculators are looking for instant rewards and instant profits. For them, poverty, hunger and famine are synonymous with profits. We did not think that we would relive the 2008 riots, but we could not have been more mistaken. Since June, the price of wheat has risen by more than 70%. The prices of maize, soya and rice are also on the increase. Last week, seven people were killed in Maputo, Mozambique, for demonstrating against the 30% increase in food prices.

Are we going to continue to stand by and do nothing, as we did two years ago? Are we going to continue to put up with investment banks bankrupting European farmers and crushing the men and women of our planet?

I call on the European Union to take the initiative to create a global agency to regulate the markets.

Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I invite you to send out a strong message so that the new CAP is fairer for European farmers and consumers and so that there is fair competition between operators which allows for the creation of a framework for regulating the markets and which gives short shrift to speculators. It is the responsibility of the European Parliament, as it prepares to exercise its joint decision-making power in agricultural matters, not to submit to any pressure, from wherever it may come. Our message must remain clear and consistent.

 
  
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  Dacian Cioloş, Member of the Commission. (FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the increase in the price of foodstuffs, the functioning of the agri-food sector, price transparency, negotiating power and the repercussions for farmers’ revenues have been at the top of the political agenda in recent months.

That is why the report presented today by Mr Bové – may I thank him personally, as well as all the members of Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and of the other committees that have contributed to the drafting of this report – outlines the main challenges facing us. Moreover, as Mr Bové was saying, these are issues that are not only highly topical, but which also feature among the decisions to be taken in the short and medium terms, in particular, within the context of the common agricultural policy reform that we are working on.

I share most of the concerns expressed in this report. I believe that the functioning of the food chain must be further improved. All of the operators concerned have everything to gain from this: consumers, the retail sector, the processing sector and, in particular – as Mr Bové was saying – farmers, who are probably the ones who face the greatest difficulties in obtaining a fair share of the revenues that are divided up within the chain.

The Commission has recently taken a number of initiatives in this regard. I would like to mention one or two of them. Firstly, the High Level Group on the Competitiveness of the Agri-Food Industry has made a number of strategic recommendations. Mr Bové takes up some of the analyses and enriches some of these proposals in the report he is presenting to us. These proposals will be supplemented by a high level forum, launched recently by Commissioner Tajani, and which will focus, in particular, on issues regarding contractual arrangements, logistics and competitiveness.

With regard to price transparency, it is, in fact, considered essential to the smooth functioning of the chain, and this is an area in which there is work to be done. As you know, the food price monitoring tool has been introduced within the framework of Eurostat, but it must be refined. It will be refined so that the information obtained can actually be of use to operators in the food chain, to farmers and consumers, and to all the other stakeholders too.

The Commission has recently published a retail market monitoring report, in which it is acknowledged that ‘structural inefficiencies’ in the food supply chain could contribute to ‘asymmetrical price transmission, price rigidity and unfair contractual conditions being imposed on primary producers’. I would point out that interested parties are invited to submit comments on this report before 10 September of this year. This report is the responsibility of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for the Internal Market, and it will doubtless provide us with some new elements that can be used to devise measures so that this asymmetrical price transmission, which causes structural inefficiencies along the chain, can be remedied.

The Commission is also preparing some legislative proposals with a view to improving the legislation on the quality of agricultural and agri-food products. We have already had occasion to speak about this issue, including in this Chamber. By the end of the year, the Commission will present the legislative package on this issue, and we are going to present some proposals, among other things, in order to support local and regional food marketing initiatives, and to enable producers, especially small producers, agricultural producers who are trying to enter direct sales markets, or short food supply chains, to make their products more easily identifiable on the markets and thus to help consumers, too, to make more informed choices when buying products.

As part of the proposals on the post-2013 common agricultural policy, I am also going to ensure that instruments for promoting agricultural products can be improved. I believe that this is an area in which the European Commission, precisely under the new conditions, can do more to help agri-food producers and the food supply chain to promote products more effectively on the European market and the global market alike.

I would also mention here that the High Level Expert Group on Milk has presented its report. As a follow-up to this report, the Commission is going to present – I repeat, by the end of the year – a legislative proposal for the milk sector that will address, among other things, the issues relating to producers’ negotiating power and the opportunities for them to organise themselves in order to better negotiate their contracts, as well as to contractual arrangements within the chain. In this context, I also plan to address the issue of the role of interprofessional organisations in the smooth functioning of the chain, particularly in the dairy sector.

As for derived products, commodities and the issue of speculation, we in the European Commission are currently putting the finishing touches to a legislative proposal of general application, and I am working in consultation and very closely with my colleague, Commissioner Barnier, on this. Other proposals will follow as part of the review of the Markets in Financial Instruments Directive.

We must also make progress in analysing how added value is distributed within the entire agri-food chain; this is a point to which I attach particular importance. As I was saying, imbalances between the negotiating power of producers and the rest of the agri-food chain has put serious pressure on producer margins in the agricultural sector. Therefore, I believe that, here too, there is work to be done and an issue to be addressed, within the context of the CAP reform.

I should also like to stress in this regard that the competitiveness of the EU agri-food sector cannot be guaranteed to the detriment of some of its component parts, and I believe that agri-food chain operators should be aware that putting too much pressure on commodity producers, on farmers, may well harm the entire chain, its economic power and its representativeness within the European industrial sector.

May I thank you once again for the report presented by the European Parliament. It is a very useful contribution to the achievement of our common objective, which is to have a better functioning food supply chain. I shall pay close attention to your debate today and to the vote on this report.

 
  
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  Esther Herranz García, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy.(ES) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I agree with Commissioner Cioloş that this report is essential and comes at the right time because it has demonstrated the abuses committed by mass distribution, severely disrupting the various links in the food chain.

While the Bové report may go too far on some points by seeking to be too interventionist, it must be acknowledged that from the point of view of the social market economy that we advocate in the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats), it provides responses to the justified complaints made by European producers.

It also brings transparency to the different parts of the food chain, which is always a good thing, offers the weakest sectors in the chain much more opportunities to defend themselves and, of course, supports European consumers in becoming more informed about that food chain.

The European food industry could perhaps have been taken into account to a greater extent in this report, which would have been a good thing, but the report does also include measures for curbing the volatility of prices, which was very necessary.

It also sets out measures for achieving equality between the links in the chain, as requested by the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and it also asks for abusive and unfair practices in mass distribution to be combated. The time is now coming to establish a list of abusive practices to be strictly banned by European legislation.

It is also important that measures be set out for preventing difficult practices through private labels that go against competition and intellectual property law.

For all these reasons, we should support the Bové report, and all our fellow Members in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, who have worked hard to ensure that this report was finally published to help European producers move forwards.

 
  
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  Ashley Fox, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. – Madam President, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection adopted an opinion analysing the problems of the food supply chain as a whole.

We recommended that farmers should be encouraged to be more efficient and to consolidate their negotiating power, and that ombudsmen should be established in all Member States to arbitrate disputes in the supply chain, ensuring that competition between all actors in the supply chain is rigorous but fair, so as to secure the lowest possible food prices for consumers, while also recognising the valuable role that retailers’ own brand labels play in enhancing competition and providing choice and lower prices to consumers.

I am disappointed that Mr Bové and the Committee on Agriculture took little notice of these suggestions. They may not like it, but markets work, and the freer the market, the better it works, to the benefit of all, especially the consumer.

I have to urge all Members to vote against this resolution and to support the alternative ECR resolution.

 
  
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  Elisabeth Köstinger, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the initiative for this report came from the Commission’s Communication concerning the considerable problems that exist within the food supply chain in Europe. Those active in the agricultural sector are particularly disadvantaged. These alarming problems are reflected in the dramatic price fluctuations that have been seen for primary produce in the farming sector.

The economic crisis has not spared farms. In some cases, farm revenues have declined by up to 28%. Production costs are at their highest for fifteen years. In some countries, farmers are already having great difficulty obtaining credit. The Commission has established that some actors at the top end of the food supply chain are abusing their dominant standing in the market on the basis of their monopolistic position. In the practices that this involves – including high listing fees for products, a lack of transparent pricing and poor bargaining power – it is always the farmers that lose out.

The largest profit margins are clearly being made by processors, wholesalers and retailers. In some cases, farmers face prices that are below production cost. We cannot allow the burden of liquidity problems to be pushed onto farmers’ shoulders as a result of actors further up the chain taking months to pay them. We cannot have retailers treating farms as banks.

One of the core points of this report is the specification of payment periods. Commissioner, you have initiated the negotiation process for the common agricultural policy after 2013. There is some uncertainty in the sector as to the direction that European agricultural policy will take – what type of agricultural production will be wanted in Europe in the future: will it be just intensive, industrialised agricultural production, or will it be diverse, sustainable and, above all, comprehensive agriculture?

In the coming months, we will reach a crossroads. We urge Parliament to demonstrate a commitment to diversity and to securing the food supply in Europe. Questions such as ‘What will we eat in the future?’, ‘Where will we live?’ and ‘How will we heat our homes?’ are more relevant than ever. The answers lie in agriculture, because agriculture’s functions include more than just producing quality produce. Our communities expect politicians to take the right action to secure sustainable production in Europe.

 
  
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  Marc Tarabella, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I should like to apologise on behalf of my colleague, Mr Alves, who was the shadow rapporteur for our group. His luggage has been lost, and so he was unable to join us in time. He has therefore asked me to replace him, which I am very happy to do.

I should like to emphasise the excellent report by our colleague, Mr Bové, in which we advocate fairer revenues for farmers and a more transparent and better functioning food supply chain in Europe. Moreover, I am also delighted with the compromise we reached in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

Indeed, following, among other things, the serious dairy crisis which befell us in 2009 and of which the causes are still present today, there was a need to identify the toxic factors responsible for the long descent to hell of that sector – which, incidentally, is not the only one in this situation.

Some potential solutions have been found to ensure that our farmers can finally do better than just cover their production costs – which, I might add, they cannot always do – and actually earn a fair income from their work.

Although we recognise just how important it is to have a supply chain in which producers and consumers are no longer the ultimate losers, at either end of the chain, and although we successfully arrived at some balanced solutions, it appears that the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe and the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) are going back on certain fundamental paragraphs of the compromise amendments negotiated before the parliamentary recess.

Unfortunately, my speaking time is too short for me to specify the paragraphs that might be rejected during the vote in plenary. However, if I had to mention just one, it would be paragraph 21, which considers that there is a need to prohibit selling below purchase price at Community level. May I say that I find the position adopted by the ALDE Group and the PPE Group scandalous: it calls into question this paragraph, which is crucial for our farmers. How could we allow our agricultural products to be sold off cheaply for the benefit of the distribution sector and, more blatantly still, for the benefit of the processing sector?

How can one question, by rejecting paragraph 41 of the report, the relevance of creating an independent global regulatory agency against speculation on food commodities?

I could also mention paragraph 52, to which I am particularly attached since I tabled it in my group together with my colleague, Mr Tabajdi. This paragraph considers that preferential treatment should be granted to producer organisations, farmers’ cooperatives and SMEs when awarding public procurement contracts in the food supply chain, and therefore calls on the Commission to suggest measures in that regard. It, too, was the subject of a compromise which is apparently today being called into question by both the PPE Group and the ALDE Group.

At a time when millions of people throughout the world are suffering from malnutrition and famine, and when speculation is exacerbating families’ financial problems – the speculation on wheat stocks following the fires that affected Russia this summer is a telling example of this right now – have the agri-food industry lobbies gained the upper hand over what seems obvious to all of us? I wonder what kind of terrible stunt we are pulling here. Is it the case that in the PPE and ALDE Groups, processing and distribution considerations take precedence over the protection of producers, who are nonetheless today under threat?

At a time when food security and food sovereignty are under threat, it is irresponsible, with regard to the public and our farmers, to pick apart our initial motion for a resolution, which is urgently needed for our farmers, who – should anyone still need reminding – make up a fundamental section of our society.

 
  
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  Marian Harkin, on behalf of the ALDE Group. – Madam President, first of all, I want to thank the rapporteur, Mr Bové, for his work on this report. The food supply chain is extraordinarily complex, with so many different factors impacting on how it operates. I believe it needs delicate handling so that we do not end up enforcing the law of unintended consequences.

There is a problem, a real problem. We know this from our own Member States. Indeed, a recent survey in Ireland revealed that 74% of consumers believe that farmers do not receive a fair price for their produce. In Ireland, farmers receive approximately 33% of the retail price of milk, 50% of the retail price of beef and 20% of the retail price of cheese. But we also know this is true at EU level, as Commission research explicitly shows that, since 1995, the only actors in the food supply chain whose share of the retail price has been decreasing are the primary producers, or the farmers.

This cannot continue to happen. If it does, we will lose many of our primary producers, and then what happens to EU food security and food sovereignty? We must deal with these issues in the context of the CAP. The food supply chain is not functioning properly and farmers are not receiving fair revenues. I disagree with Mr Fox on one point; there is, in my view, a case of market failure and some intervention is needed, but the crucial question is to know what interventions we should make.

The Commission, I believe, needs to investigate and, where necessary, take action against, anti-competitive behaviour. There is no doubt that contractual imbalances associated with unequal bargaining power have a negative effect on competitiveness in the food supply chain, particularly for the smaller actors. The asymmetry in bargaining power that exists between the different contracting parties, to which the Commissioner referred, can often lead to a situation where larger and more powerful actors seek to impose contractual arrangements to their advantage. In simple terms, the small guys get squeezed.

A very interesting point that has not featured in this discussion, but is of relevance, is that there is ample evidence that we are exporting our unfair trading practices to developing countries, where huge EU-based multinationals abuse their dominant position in the marketplace. In that context, I believe we need a global response. I support voluntary contracts rather than compulsory ones, and the establishment in all Member States of an EU ombudsman. On a personal level, I disagree with below-cost selling.

Finally, I am pleased to hear the comments of the Commissioner and I applaud his proposals. This is a complex issue and requires a multi-faceted approach.

 
  
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  Martin Häusling, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Bové has tabled a very good report and we were all very much in agreement in Committee; there were just four votes against.

We are naturally surprised, therefore, that the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) and the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe have tabled amendments to have certain paragraphs removed from the report. It is astonishing to find a compromise that has already been reached being later called into question. I am curious as to the reasons, but I am also curious as to why then one would take the time to sit down and draw up something together.

Let me give some examples of what I am talking about. Paragraph 8 calls for an observatory to be established for price and profit margins in the agricultural sector. There is agreement on this, but to do so obviously requires prices to be compared – as stated in the second part. That is precisely what the PPE Group no longer wants. It causes me to wonder, Mrs Köstinger, whether there is a discrepancy between what you say and what you do.

The paragraph that the ALDE Group wants removed is even better. There is a general view that marketing products below production cost should be banned throughout the Union. That was something on which there was once a consensus. I believe that being against dumping practices is something that we demand from everyone – including our trading partners in the WTO. Why does the ALDE Group want to remove this particular paragraph? We find it incomprehensible.

In a further paragraph, we call on the Commission to propose legal provisions that will create instruments to limit price volatility, in order to reduce the producers’ high level of dependence. This, too, is to be deleted. There are therefore many questions to ask concerning why this consensus is now being undermined and why positions that were already in Mr Leinen’s report and thus also supported by the ALDE Group are now being questioned.

I therefore urge all agricultural politicians to adopt a common position, because farmers feel it is high time we came up with some answers as to how we can bring an end to this unsustainable state of affairs in which farmers are the losers in the food supply chain.

At present, we are experiencing another wave of speculation in the agricultural sector which, in the final event, serves nobody – neither farmers nor consumers. It is time to do something at last. Consumers, too, are demanding this of us, and I merely ask that what we say to farmers outside this House concurs with what we do in Parliament. I therefore hope that in the end, this report will be adopted exactly as it was tabled.

 
  
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  James Nicholson, on behalf of the ECR Group. – Madam President, Mr Bové’s report is very topical, and I welcome the fact that we have an opportunity to explore these issues regarding the function of Europe’s food supply chain in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

There are undoubtedly certain problems in Europe’s food supply chain. The recent extreme commodity prices and volatility in the market have, in my opinion, undermined food chain stability. It must be acknowledged that farmers are experiencing consistently falling farm-gate prices coupled with ever-increasing operational costs, whilst retailers and consumers continue to enjoy handsome profits and low prices respectively. In this regard, I agree with Mr Bové that there are problems which have to be addressed in order to achieve a balance between fairness and profitability.

However, I do not entirely agree with the suggestions in Mr Bové’s report as to how to rectify this imbalance and, in this regard, I have tabled an alternative resolution on behalf of my group.

I certainly do not believe that the answer is to introduce yet more European Union legislation to enforce mandatory codes of conduct upon farmers. Existing EU competition laws are adequate and should be properly enforced. The food supply chain must be allowed to operate in the context of the free market and, as far as possible, be free of unnecessary burdensome regulation and red tape. Greater price transparency in the food supply chain is required, as is an end to unfair practices by retailers, such as stocking fees and unacceptably late payments to producers.

On the other hand, farmers need to be encouraged to organise themselves in a more effective manner so that they can increase their bargaining power in relation to large processors and retailers. In my opinion, the way forward is to tackle anti-competitive practices and promote voluntary codes of good practice.

Over the summer, we have seen grain prices shoot through the roof, which is only going to make even greater problems in the food supply chain. This volatility in the market is really destroying the market.

 
  
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  Jacky Hénin, on behalf of the GUE/NGL Group.(FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, the majority of farmers in the EU survive on a pittance and, what is more, they suffer constant stress caused by the financial markets’ irrational speculation. Most farmers are convinced that they no longer have a future. Theirs is a social group with one of the highest incidences of suicide.

If Europe continues to impoverish its farmers and its agricultural workers, they will disappear, with terrible consequences in terms of land management, quality of life and food self-sufficiency. This will fuel an environmental crisis with even more dreadful and swifter effects than those of the melting icecaps in Greenland.

This text is full of fine resolutions and it presents some interesting proposals, even if it artfully sidesteps the underlying causes that led to the current disaster and, therefore, the radical solutions to be implemented. The problem is not just one of ensuring that farmers and agricultural workers – the ones overlooked most by this resolution – earn a fair income; rather, it is about achieving a level of income and of remunerative prices that enables all those in the agricultural sector to finally make a living from their work.

We must point the finger at and, if necessary, penalise, the large-scale distribution sector and the financial resources behind it, for the ill-considered pressure they exert in order to lower prices, but also for the length of time it takes them to pay their dues; the funds which speculate on food commodities, exposing our populations to serious risks; and the role of the banks in the difficulties faced by farmers.

This report is along the right lines, but more progress still needs to be made.

 
  
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  Anna Rosbach, on behalf of the EFD Group.(DA) Madam President, Mr Bové’s proposal states that one of the key goals of the common agricultural policy was and is to guarantee fair revenues for farmers. I completely disagree with this. Agricultural policy claims 40% of the EU budget. In my country, almost everyone agrees that agricultural aid should be abolished, as we consider agriculture to be a free and competitive industry. This report goes in completely the opposite direction. It proposes more EU bodies, paid for by taxpayers, for unifying and controlling a whole industry, from producer to consumer. I simply cannot support this. It is well-known that the transport sector, intermediaries and retailers also make money from goods, but the price is ultimately controlled by consumers, in other words, all of us who ordinarily go shopping. The proposal also calls for an information campaign to be launched regarding the efforts made by agriculture in relation to the environment. It neither is, nor should it be, the EU’s job to conduct this type of campaign. If farmers feel the need to do this, they should do it via their own organisations. That is what they are there for, after all.

The need for agricultural policy reforms is also clear. However, what Mr Bové is proposing here has been tried once before and was found to be impossible and unserviceable. It was referred to as a centrally planned economy. Agriculture in the EU countries is extremely diverse, and I therefore consider this subject to be a national matter that should be managed close to the individual farmers and their problems.

 
  
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  Diane Dodds (NI). – Madam President, I welcome the work undertaken by Mr Bové in formulating this report. I also welcome this debate highlighting the need for transparency throughout the food supply chain.

Transparency is a vital element, but the way in which we tackle large retail organisations whose sole motivation is meeting the needs of their shareholders is equally important. Their quest to increase market share and profits has had a negative impact on farmers and, in some cases, processors.

Currently, the market does not reward farmers for the time and money which they invest in farming to produce high quality, safe, sustainable food.

In Northern Ireland, the beef industry is under a lot of pressure, and many farms do not break even financially. Of course, any intervention must be seen in terms of the CAP. Without this, the industry would struggle to survive. We in this Parliament need to realise the importance of this policy and the benefit that it provides for our farming sectors.

The market has not delivered over a number of years for the dairy or beef sector. We have held many debates in this Chamber in relation to the dairy sector in particular.

If we want our farmers to compete in a free market, we must address the problems within the supply chain, third-country imports and the price consumers pay for food, taking into account falling farm-gate prices.

The role of speculators and the need to reduce volatility in the market must be addressed immediately. Import bans and scaremongering by speculators have fuelled a major hike in cereal prices across the world; this will have a knock-on effect on the food supply chain.

Europe has a duty to secure its food supply. The way to do this is not to put farmers out of business, or to increase regulation, but to ensure fair prices both at farm-gate and at consumer level.

 
  
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  Albert Deß (PPE).(DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I should like to thank all those who worked on this report. Overall, their work has resulted in a good report.

During the debate, it has become clear to me that the situation across Europe varies greatly. There are Member States in which a few large concerns dominate the market, and – thankfully – there are also Member States in which there are still many small retailers. There is just as much variation in the situation as regards food prices. There are Member States in which the price of food has risen substantially in recent times, and there are Member States – such as my home country of Germany – where there is merciless competition between enterprises and food prices are constantly being lowered, to the detriment of farmers.

Our main concern is to call on the Commission and the Member States to review the situation and to take appropriate measures to allow farmers to add value in the food supply chain. The report also contains some very specific demands, however. I only have time to mention a few here, such as the call in paragraph 30 for a specified payment period. It is not acceptable that farmers, small businesses and cooperatives are providing short-term financing for major concerns. That is the job of the banks; it is not a job for farming cooperatives.

Listing fees – as they are known – must also be investigated, Commissioner. We need a uniform regulation on this throughout Europe if we are to ensure competition. If we are to guarantee the food supply of 500 million people in the EU, then we must have fair competition for our farmers in Europe, as called for in the report.

There is one more thing I would like to mention, which is that members of my group have asked for certain paragraphs to be voted on separately. As democrats, we have to accept that, but I am assuming that the vast majority of my group will vote in favour of most paragraphs so that we can achieve fair conditions for our farmers.

 
  
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  Stéphane Le Foll (S&D).(FR) Madam President, I too would like to welcome the work done by the rapporteur, Mr Bové, to welcome the Commissioner, and also to welcome the speech by Mr Dess, who spoke before me, on the objectives of this report.

I feel it is very important to remember that, in this debate, we have to solve a problem linked to the volatility of agricultural prices and, above all, to the fact that, when prices rise, the increase is very quickly passed on to the distribution sector, but when they fall at production level, there is no knock-on effect for consumers.

Therefore, there is clearly a problem with the way in which the chain is organised; there is clearly a problem with the way in which so-called added value is distributed within it. I believe that Mr Bové’s report offers ideas, in several areas, that we must take further – and here I am really addressing the Commission – in order to try and emerge from this fundamentally negative spiral.

The first, of course, is to organise the chain and the balance of power within it. What proposals are we making to ensure that producers who work together and are organised carry more weight within the chain in order to negotiate? That is the question you asked, Commissioner, with regard to interprofessions, but it is also a question that relates to the contractual basis that is going to be implemented. I call for this contractual basis to have a European framework – a point made in the report. We cannot let each country solve this problem. There has to be a European framework. It must be flexible, but it must exist. This proposal, this course of action, is inextricably linked as far as I am concerned.

Secondly, of course, there is the issue of price transparency. Here, I am in favour of creating this observatory, which we absolutely must have so that consumers can be kept informed of price trends.

Those are the points I wished to make. I support the proposals that have been made and I hope, as Mr Dess said, that the rapporteur’s proposals receive the support of the majority.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Rainer WIELAND
Vice-President

 
  
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  Marit Paulsen (ALDE).(SV) Mr President, my first response to Mr Bové is that I am capable of saying ‘no’ if a lobbyist attempts to influence me, but I have yet to see one.

If we want our rural communities to thrive, if we want to ensure an adequate food supply in Europe, if we want to manage our cultural heritage, ensure animal protection and cope with our demand for food and for farmers, farmers need to be better paid for their products.

There is no doubt that the major problem with the current situation and with our future agricultural policy is the low payment that farmers receive for their products. I think it is our social responsibility to pay, via our taxes, for what, in general, farmers produce that is of collective benefit, for the sake of our cultural heritage, among other things. We need greater openness and greater transparency – on this we fully agree – and we need to enhance the competitive situation in the large industries. First, the input industry, which comes before the farmers and is the world’s largest business, with most of the undertakings being fully globalised, and the major food supply chains. We need to look at competition and attain transparency.

 
  
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  Janusz Wojciechowski (ECR). (PL) I congratulate you, Mr Bové. You have done very well. The report brilliantly develops the ideas that the European Parliament expressed back in 2008 in a written declaration which was adopted at the time. I was proud to be one of its authors. For the first time, we took a firm stance against the misuse by large commercial networks of their monopolistic position with regard to farmers and suppliers. This document develops those ideas.

Ladies and gentlemen, today, in Poland, we are celebrating the end of the harvest. This celebration is called dożynki and we share bread made from the newly-harvested crop. This shared bread generates less and less income for the farmer, less than 10%, and not so long ago, it was still 25%. This is what it is like in Poland and all over Europe.

Farmers are the weakest link in the market. Fellow Members who mention the need for greater market involvement seem to forget that the market will not solve problems of security, whether it is energy security or, as in this case, food security. Otherwise, it is a good thing if the market is free, but not if it is wild. Yet this market which involves agricultural production is very often wild: strong commercial networks and large companies dictate conditions for the weaker farmers, even those who are organised but still remain weaker. This needs to change. I truly believe that this report will not remain just a piece of paper this time, but that action will also be taken, at EU level. We have one common market in the European Union, and EU law should regulate how it works.

 
  
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  João Ferreira (GUE/NGL).(PT) Instead of merely pointing out problems, which in this case are all too obvious, their causes must be identified and solutions sought that are effective, fair and lasting.

While, as the rapporteur recognises, the Commission’s communication falls far short of what is required in this area, the truth is that the report itself also falls short of what is needed. Concrete measures are needed to end manipulation of food prices and cartelisation by intermediary sectors in the supply chain, such as the big distributors that the liberalisation of agricultural markets has favoured.

The guarantee of minimum fair prices must be taken up again in order to ensure a living income for farmers that will enable them to sustain themselves in this strategically important sector, counteracting the abandonment of production and increase in food dependency in a number of countries and regions, as is the case with Portugal. The establishment of maximum marketing margins in relation to the prices paid to producers must be considered, not least for supermarkets, in order to ensure the fair distribution of added value throughout the food supply chain

Measures and policies are needed – especially budgetary ones – that invigorate and support the operation and modernisation of local and regional markets. The security of the food supply, the preservation of ecosystems and the strengthening of the economic and social fabric of the primary sector also make it necessary to organise international trade in such a way that producers and their products complement rather than compete against each other. It is necessary to question and break with a system that deals with food as if it were just another commodity and allows speculation on food; this leads to explosive situations from the point of view of food dependency and price volatility, as has been occurring.

 
  
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  Andreas Mölzer (NI).(DE) Mr President, as we all know, food prices have been continually increasing in recent times – and apparently the price of wheat is about to rocket as a result of the capriciousness of the weather and agricultural speculation – yet prices in the shops bear no relation to what small farmers get for their hard work. Moreover, EU producers can scarcely compete on price in the world market because our social, quality, animal protection and environmental standards are so high – the very standards that we are unable or unwilling to check when importing foods.

If we are to put a stop to the resulting rapid decline in the farming population, particularly among small-scale farmers, and not lose the last vestiges of self-sufficiency, we naturally need to assist our farmers. If we do not want our rural areas to continue to decline and the numbers of farmers to continue to fall, then it is high time we stopped paying agricultural subsidies to the big agricultural concerns and give the money instead to those who really need it in order to survive – in other words, to small farmers. If that is not possible in the centralised EU then, as far as I am concerned, renationalising agricultural subsidies is the only way forward.

 
  
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  Michel Dantin (PPE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the report entrusted to our fellow Member, Mr Bové, addresses what is, today, a crucial issue for society, from consumers to producers.

The Commission’s figures speak volumes, Commissioner: 20 years ago, milk producers received 31% of the chain’s turnover, which back then equated to just over EUR 450 million. Today, they receive only 24% of the turnover, or just under EUR 550 million. Other examples exist with regard to fruit, meat and so on.

Clarifying pricing is therefore today a prerequisite for reforming the common agricultural policy (CAP) because, if we do not clarify it, the CAP will, in future, seem like a bottomless pit in the eyes of the public and of farmers themselves. The CAP’s profits are today being siphoned off, but for the benefit of whom, of what? Ladies and gentlemen, it is our duty to understand what is going on.

Contrary to what I am hearing from certain quarters, producers are no less well organised today than they were 20 or 30 years ago. However, the other stakeholders have grown, and the number of producers has decreased even more rapidly than that of farmers. The chain has become longer, too. This situation requires us to adapt competition law and to supplement the market crisis management tools, which no longer seem suited to the new architecture of the chains linking producers to consumers. Lastly, there is the specific issue of quality products, in particular, with regard to imported imitations.

We need clarity. Commissioner, your services are examining the functioning of the French prices and margins observatory. There is room for improvement, but it already contains a wealth of information on consumer-level pricing and on the niches where margins are hidden. I should like to commend the work that has also been done by our shadow rapporteur, Mrs Köstinger.

Attacks have been made here and there today. One of the merits of our Parliament is that we respect different points of view. This is also the case with regard to the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats). Everyone remains free to vote as they wish. For my part, I shall not compromise my vote in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

 
  
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  Iratxe García Pérez (S&D). (ES) Mr President, Commissioner, the problems in the food chain have been the focus of the public’s attention in recent years.

As we did in the Batzeli report, we are calling on the Commission to distribute added value fairly and sustainably throughout the food chain. This can be done through a proportional balance of power between the parties concerned, which does not exist or is simply failing, to the detriment of the incomes of primary producers. The situation varies from sector to sector: in some cases, it is processing, and in others, mass distribution, but in all cases, it is producers that are suffering most due to their lack of negotiating power.

The Bové report identifies the issues that we need to keep working on, as this is a problem that requires joint action on different fronts, including the right to competition. Cooperatives and agricultural producers’ groups need to be expanded and consolidated, and there needs to be more integration between the different links in the food chain, both at European and national level, through inter-trade organisations.

I would like to express my support for the report and for the compromises reached in the vote in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, which must be respected in this plenary sitting.

 
  
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  Britta Reimers (ALDE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the distribution of profits in the food supply chain has become unbalanced, and generally to the detriment of farmers. That is the correct conclusion drawn in this report.

Unfortunately, the rapporteur has focused on the old instruments of agricultural policy. He believes that farmers’ incomes can be improved by regulating supply in the manner of a planned economy. Experience tells us that planned economies go hand in hand with greater bureaucracy, but our farmers want to produce – they do not want more paperwork. Measures that are not based on the basic principles of a social market economy have failed in the past. A planned economy has not worked in the agricultural sector in recent decades.

A social market economy, on the other hand, offers farmers the opportunity to run a successful business. If we are to improve the situation of farmers, then we must ensure that the European farming sector is competitive in the long term. To achieve this, it is essential that we improve the bargaining position of farmers vis-à-vis the other actors in the food supply chain. This can be achieved by means of a fair and transparent market that is also capable of holding its own in the global market. At present, I have my doubts as to whether I can vote in favour of the report.

 
  
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  Richard Ashworth (ECR). – Mr President, we have a dysfunctional market price chain. The imbalance of power between the players in the chain has resulted too often in the supply side not receiving a fair return for their produce and so, while I agree with and support the broad objectives of this report, I cannot agree with the proposals and solutions which the rapporteur suggests.

More regulation, mandatory powers and market intervention are not the solution, nor do they reflect the interests of all the stakeholders and, in particular, of 500 million consumers.

I do welcome, and believe there is a need for, greater transparency in the industry and I think, to that end, codes of practice and the appointment of ombudsmen would be helpful, but I urge the Commissioner here to approach this problem with a light touch.

By all means support voluntary initiatives; by all means encourage the supply side to organise themselves into cooperatives in order to get better presence in the market place; and by all means help them to promote and market their products and, overall, encourage all players in the marketplace to form mature, contractual arrangements. All those I welcome, and I suggest they are realistic proposals which the Commission can put forward.

At the end of the day, however, my message is that you interfere with the workings of the free market at your peril.

 
  
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  Elie Hoarau (GUE/NGL).(FR) Mr President, Mr Bové’s report broadly outlines the obstacles farmers face in their primary role, which is to feed the world while, at the same time, earning a fair and decent income for themselves, their wives and their children, not only during their working lives, but also when they retire.

The global food crisis shows that the agricultural and agro-industrial sectors are functioning poorly. The facts are clear: because of speculation, producers are earning less and less money, and consumers are paying more and more for their products.

What is more, our farmers are subject to demanding standards, while Free Trade Agreements allow the entry into Europe of agricultural products that definitely do not meet similar standards.

Therefore, if the current market rules laid down by the WTO do not allow farmers to earn a decent living, or the peoples of the world to eat healthily, then these rules must be reformed, because they no longer comply with …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (PPE).(PT) This report gives emphasis to a matter that is of great importance in the area of agriculture, which requires intervention coordinated at European level given that, from 1996 to the present day, the average price of food products has increased by 3.3% per annum, with the cost of agricultural products increasing by 3.6% and the prices paid to farmers increasing by only 2.1%. We are therefore faced with a situation of serious imbalances in bargaining power in the food distribution chain, which urgently needs correcting.

In accordance with the objectives set out by the common agricultural policy, farmers and the agri-food sector observe very exacting quality standards and maintain prices accessible to consumers when producing foodstuffs. Nevertheless, a very small number of powerful retailers impose their prices on 13.4 million farmers and 310 000 agro-industry companies throughout the European Union, almost without negotiation.

In this context, I advocate asking the European Commission to present legislative proposals to solve the problem, including changes to the European competition rules, that go further than the mere recommendations and strategies drawn up by the high-level group on the food distribution chain; to organise a huge information campaign for farmers across Europe about their rights; to ban abusive practices that are being felt especially in the sector of rapidly perishable products such as fruit and vegetables; and to promote support for farmers’ organisations so that they have greater critical mass and are better able to negotiate.

It would be useful to bracket farmers’ organisations and cooperatives with small and medium-sized enterprises so that they are able to benefit from special exemptions.

We recognise that the balance between full respect for the rules of free competition in a market economy that we advocate and the urgently required intervention that is being demanded from the European Commission has not always been easy, but we believe that it has generally been achieved, which is why we approve of and welcome this report.

 
  
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  Csaba Sándor Tabajdi (S&D).(HU) We are facing a European problem that has remained unresolved for several decades. My father was a fruit and vegetable merchant, and I recall that 40 years ago, when I was a child, he saw the discrepancies between the prices paid to farmers and the prices charged to consumers in Budapest. Therefore, the problem was already present at that time, even in the framework of centralised economic planning. I agree with almost all the recommendations made by the rapporteur, including the extension of the Member State and EU price monitoring system and the establishment of the Ombudsman’s institution. I believe that the French practice of mandatory contracts is a good example. I hope that where the future of the common agricultural policy is concerned, Mr Cioloş will support both this and the provision of more support to producer organisations. Farmers have their own tasks and obligations, and it must be accepted that they have no chance of survival without forming organisations. This is particularly important in new Member States, because organisations are not the invention of the devil …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Esther de Lange (PPE). (NL) Mr President, what we have heard here about the functioning of the food supply chain actually makes you want to cry. Allow me, therefore, to take just one example – that of onions; I think they nicely sum up the core of this debate. In the current market, a farmer receives 10 euro cents for a kilo net, while that same net is sold for EUR 1 in the shops. Between the farm and the supermarket checkout, the margins and power are distributed unevenly. That is why this House demanded an investigation into margin distribution as early as 2008. It is a disgrace, by the way, that the previous Commission refused to carry out such an investigation. However, it now appears that we will have a price observatory instead and this House should see to it that it really does happen and that it gets up and running.

The report by my fellow Member, Mr Bové, is a good report, because it really hits the nail on the head. The rapporteur may have been a little overenthusiastic on some points, but the basic points of this report deserve broad support tomorrow. I am addressing this, in particular, to the parties that are threatening to vote against it tomorrow. Do they, and here I am thinking particularly of the Liberals and the Conservatives, know, for example, how much it costs a farmer to produce a kilo of these apples? It costs 30 to 35 euro cents, while that same farmer receives 20 to 25 euro cents for that same kilo of apples. This means that he actually has to sell the apples at a loss while the consumer pays EUR 1.25. Once again, I am addressing these points to the people who want to vote against the report. That section of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, for example, that is always at the fore when it comes to imposing ever more environmental and biodiversity requirements and calling for fewer pesticides. While those requirements might be legitimate, you cannot expect the producer to make these investments without ensuring a stable and reasonable income for the farmer. Those who want to vote against this report tomorrow will destroy any credibility they might otherwise have had the next time they try to drive up those requirements. I hope they bear that in mind tomorrow when they press the ‘against’ button.

 
  
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  Luís Paulo Alves (S&D).(PT) This own-initiative report that we are debating today – for which Mr Bové, whom I congratulate on the way he undertook it and on its good final result, is responsible, and on which I had the privilege of being a shadow rapporteur and negotiating the 17 commitments obtained – is absolutely essential at a time when agricultural policies are increasingly market-oriented, European farmers are confronted with very low income levels, and millions of consumers find themselves in pressing need of keeping food at accessible prices as a result of the crisis affecting all of us.

Farmers’ incomes will increasingly depend on the values generated in the markets and the price of food on how well these markets are working; this means that making the food supply chain work better is absolutely necessary for a more equitable sharing of the value generated from agricultural producers to final consumers, ensuring fair incomes for the former and appropriate prices for the latter.

In order for this to happen, the relationships established throughout the food supply chain must be rebalanced and made transparent, ensuring the existence of a framework of fair and competitive best practices.

We therefore call on the Commission to pay heed to the proposals, which enjoy broad support in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

 
  
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  Astrid Lulling (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Mr Langen has given me another minute because he will not be present here himself. I would first like to apologise to the rapporteur and to the Members that I have only just arrived for this debate, but as you know, the Bureau of Parliament is meeting at the same time and is currently discussing what to do about the half-baked proposal by the Conference of Presidents concerning Members’ attendance tomorrow during the address by President Barroso of the Commission on the state of the Union. I hope that we will see the back of this half-baked proposal.

Regarding the Bové report, I would like to say that it was good that the European Commission urged us to improve the way the food supply chain in Europe works in the communication on which this report was based. The aim must naturally be to secure the agricultural sector a fairer share of the value added in this chain. Unfortunately, this is not the case at present in some areas.

I also support the drafting of a list of the aggravating causes of this situation, such as the abuse of power, late payment, limited market access and many other factors. If the diagnosis is correct, then the treatment must be too. Unfortunately, the vote in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development did not succeed in removing from the Bové report all the inconsistencies in this respect.

We still live in the European Union, not in a Soviet Union – and we do not want to create such a thing in this area. As we all know, the Soviet Union’s system was not capable of feeding its population properly and did not allow farmers to go about their business freely. I therefore reject all of Mr Bové’s prescribed treatments that are incompatible with our system of a social market economy – which may not be perfect, but is certainly superior. Thankfully, we in Europe do not have to deal with the spectre of imperialist conspiracies.

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  President. – Mrs Lulling, Mr Langen’s generosity is beyond question, but in this case you are overstating it. Mr Langen could not have given you a minute because he did not have one to give.

 
  
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  Spyros Danellis (S&D) . – (EL) Mr President, Commissioner, if farmers are to have fair revenues, three conditions need to be met under present circumstances: firstly, they must be stable enough to allow producers to make long-term plans and investments; secondly, they must reflect the value and cost of production, as dictated by the free market in agricultural products and inflows, where there are no exogenous distorting factors which create instability and distorted price ratios, and, thirdly, they must mirror the real contribution of the value of agricultural products to the price paid by consumers.

If these three conditions are to be met, we need a different perception of farming and of the common agricultural policy and we need to plan drastic action on the part of the European Union to complement the CAP. This is the aim of the Bové report, which takes an integrated approach to the issue, with proposals on transparency, competition and action to combat abuse of power when contracts are executed, to stamp out speculation and to establish conditions that will safeguard viable production under current circumstances.

 
  
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  Christa Klaß (PPE). (DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the little that we allow ourselves to eat must be wholesome and good. We have many laws to ensure that the agricultural sector lives up to our high standards. The farmers of Europe produce and supply food of excellent quality. Quality comes at a price, however. A fair income for farmers was enshrined in the founding treaties of the European Union and remains one of the main objectives of the common agricultural policy to this day. However, farmers are having to sell at rock-bottom prices – often below production cost. That is downright obscene, and it is this that we want to change.

However, with the Bové report, we run the risk of severely damaging what the social market economy has achieved. There is no future for regulated markets. The past has shown us that. So what is the ideal solution? It cannot be good for traders to have to regularly report their market share and sales. That only creates bureaucracy; it does not change anything. We need to have better, stricter control of the existing regulations in order to act against any abuse of market position. We need traders to be our partners, so we cannot afford to shackle them in ways that make it harder for them to trade.

The Bové report is a well-intentioned initiative, but substantial parts of it need to be pared down and made practicable. That will allow us to move closer to our common objective: healthy food, always available, so that everyone can be satisfied, and at reasonable prices that allow everyone to live. That also means strengthening the position of farmers, producer organisations and industry associations. Farmers will be in a better bargaining position in the markets if they can join forces to make appropriate offers. Farmers themselves need to realise that they will achieve more by acting together. Traders and producer groups need to move towards each other in this respect. That will result in a win-win situation.

 
  
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  Vasilica Viorica Dăncilă (S&D).(RO) One particular problem which farmers face concerns the unfair distribution of profits throughout the food chain, which influences whether farmers receive adequate incomes.

There are a large number of semi-subsistence farm holdings which mainly produce for their own consumption, as well as a very small amount for the market. Lack of efficiency, the large proportion of personal consumption of these holdings’ produce and the self-employed status of workers in the agricultural sector are the main features of this type of agriculture. In these circumstances, there are farm holdings which will not be able to benefit effectively from the support provided by the common agricultural policy.

Bearing in mind that agriculture is one of the sectors which have been hardest hit by the economic crisis, the European Commission needs to provide for and guarantee measures aimed at encouraging farmers to achieve sustainable and ethical production, as well as to compensate for the investments made. This would create a balance, thereby helping the operation of the European food supply chain to improve.

 
  
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  Giovanni La Via (PPE).(IT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, the report adopted by the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on 28 June on fair revenues for farmers is an important step in promoting a better functioning food supply chain in Europe.

This report is therefore an important move, in view of the severe crisis that has been affecting various parts of the agricultural sector for some time and has now left thousands of companies in difficulties.

Swift action is therefore needed, and the report puts forward a number of measures that can be adopted so as to ensure price transparency and fair competition in the markets, as well as strong intervention to stamp out the abuse of buyer power and contracting and global speculation on commodities.

I believe the sector needs to be reorganised, with the focus being placed on the farmers, who should be granted a suitable role in the innovation of new kinds of markets for agricultural produce. In addition, the food supply chain needs to be rationalised, so as to reduce the environmental impact of food transport and to raise awareness and promote the marketing of products with a strong local character.

I personally give my full support to everything that Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development has approved, and in terms of the vote, I shall also vote for what the committee has decided, as some of my fellow Members have already announced in advance.

I would, however, like to emphasise two topics that the report has brought up, among others. The first concerns the review of the competition rules to benefit producers who make products with a strong local character.

The second is a call for the Commission to propose instruments to support and promote farmer-managed food supply chains in order to reduce the number of middlemen and enable producers to benefit more from the marketing of their produce.

 
  
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  Philippe Juvin (PPE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I am, philosophically speaking, a liberal. When it comes to the economy, I believe that the market and competition are a good thing.

However, to those in this House who believe that the same old market rules can be applied to agriculture, I say the following: can you name any other sector of such importance to the economy as agriculture that has such unpredictable and such potentially variable prices?

It is said that some European farmers have seen their income halved. Who here would accept seeing his or her income halved? Who can say that this is a dignified and fair situation? Furthermore, these prices – these crazy prices now – affect everyone. They prevent farmers from benefiting from increases, and they prevent consumers from benefiting from decreases.

So, yes, the real issue is that of price transparency; it is that of the added value of labour. As I see it, Mr President, agriculture is not about feeling nostalgic for a bygone era. Agriculture is the guarantee of the future. It is the guarantee, for Europe, of a regular and guaranteed supply for its 500 million inhabitants.

Who here knows of a single large country over the course of history that has not been concerned about its food supply? Ladies and gentlemen, we must do for agriculture what has been done for the financial sector. We must save it by making it transparent and by ensuring that its costs are clear. Europe needs its farmers, ladies and gentlemen. I wish to tell Mr Bové that he has my vote and, I am sure, the vote of many Members of the Group of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats).

 
  
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  Peter Jahr (PPE).(DE) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, for me, the most important aspect of this own-initiative report is the political signal that it sends out. It is a signal to the value chain that farmers too, and in particular, have a right to appropriate remuneration for their work. The current situation cannot continue. When we see foodstuffs being sold dirt cheap, being exploited as loss leaders and farmers not receiving payment for their produce until three months after delivery, it is a situation that bears absolutely no relation to fair competition and fair trade.

If competition is not working, then politics must step in. Market structures are not a matter of fate. It is up to politics to ensure that imbalances in the market are straightened out. We need numerous measures if we are to bring about a long-term improvement in the situation. These include transparent pricing, the strengthening of producer groups, the elimination of unfair trading practices and the introduction of guaranteed payment periods. We have a wide range of possible measures at our disposal. Let us use them.

The own-initiative report is a good and important start, which is why I will be voting in favour of it.

 
  
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  Sophie Auconie (PPE).(FR) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I should like to commend the work of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and, hence, of Mr Bové.

Food and commodity price volatility is causing major problems for our farmers. Their average income fell by more than 12% in the European Union in 2009, with peaks where some revenues fell by half. Our farmers have to be able to generate a fair income from their work, on the one hand, and to produce food products that meet demanding quality standards at prices that are affordable to consumers, on the other.

Our three challenges are therefore as follows: to ensure that farmers have fair volumes and prices so that they can carry out stable, secure and, above all, profitable production, and can do so with an idea of their future revenues; to improve the balance of the food chain and price transparency in the interests of consumers; and to ensure that policy finally benefits farmers and consumers and not other links in this chain, which at present make it more complex.

Thanks to the work done in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Bové’s report is balanced. It proposes some solutions to the challenges that I have just identified. In my view, it is necessary to implement a new form of market regulation, based, in particular, on better integration of the various links in the chain.

Strengthening producer organisations, offering standard contracts in certain sectors, and encouraging self-regulation initiatives: those, in my view, are good avenues to explore. Furthermore, it is essential to promote quality products and sustainable production; to do so, we need a credible European system, and quality labels and signs. The agricultural market does need to be regulated, but in a proportionate and intelligent way.

 
  
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  Krisztina Morvai (NI).(HU) I fully support Mr José Bové’s excellent report in which he demands that farmers be provided at last with reasonable and fair incomes. We have seen what happens when the issue of farmers’ income is left to be decided solely by the so-called free market. We have now reached a point where a farm goes out of business in the time it takes any of my fellow Members to give a short speech. As a result of the current approach, a farm goes out of business every three or four minutes, with the ensuing catastrophic societal, human and environmental consequences.

I plead with those who want to continue to leave farmers’ incomes to be decided solely by the free market to consider this aspect, as well, and acknowledge that we do need regulation. I would like to emphasise three areas. One is the regulation of retail networks’ share ratio. This is necessary. None of these should grow to the detriment of others, and there should be market opportunities for small store networks, cooperative stores and farmers’ trade. Minimum purchase prices need to be guaranteed. Even the most profit-oriented supermarket chains should be required to pay farmers the minimum purchase price. Farmers’ organisations should be given a great deal of support. Market access funds, EU market access funds, should be injected with capital and chain stores which place locally produced foods, the healthiest, fresh, local foods on the market, should be supported.

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). – Mr President, I should like to thank the rapporteur for this report. Normally, own-initiative reports are tame affairs and we do not get a chance to debate the issues, so I suppose it is positive that we are having a debate about what is now a very controversial and sensitive subject: the issue of fair prices and fair returns to farmers.

The very fact that we have this report means that there is a problem in the marketplace for food, and that we do need political action to address it. I am concerned that there is some rowing back from that position over the summer months, but I certainly am not rowing back from my support for the Bové report. While I have concerns about elements of it, I support the overall theme, which is that we need action to address concerns of producers and to ensure that they get fair prices.

It is a simple fact that producers are price takers: they do not set the price that they get for their produce. Would that they could, and if they were wise, perhaps they should keep food in short supply and we would all pay a dear price for that. But they are not price makers, they are price takers, and they need protection.

I want to respond to some comments from the ECR colleagues. Two words terrify me, and they are: light touch. The idea that light-touch regulation works for the food sector or for the banking sector – I am afraid it does not work. Light-touch regulation that is not monitored will fail, so let us get away from that idea. The same goes for the idea that the free market works. We have to ask: who does it work for? As colleagues have said, agriculture – the food production chain – is different. It is not like any other sector.

I would ask those who say that the market works because it provides the lowest possible consumer prices to answer the question: how long can that pertain? And is cheap food going to keep going in the long term? We need action. I support the Bové report with some slight reservations, and I hope colleagues do likewise.

 
  
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  Riikka Manner (ALDE). (FI) Mr President, Commissioner, first of all, I wish to congratulate the rapporteur for an excellent, balanced report.

For us, a functional system of agriculture and food production that applies to Europe as a whole is a big and important matter of safety. This is no conventional area of trade that we can allow to be subject to market forces, as has been said a number of times here. At present, the issue concerns the future of agriculture generally.

The investments that young farmers and others have to make today in agriculture, if they want to keep farming, are huge and of great importance. In order to continue to have the courage to invest and take risks in the future, we need stable levels of income for farmers and fair revenues for the work that they do.

At the moment, it is a fact that trade is more easily able to dictate its own terms in many cases. This is particularly taxing for the producer. The report mentions some very important elements in a solution for fairer levels of income for farmers, and I hope that they can also be put into practice.

 
  
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  Jarosław Kalinowski (PPE). (PL) Mr President, the European Commission states in its communication that it is essential to act to eliminate dishonest practices among economic entities along the whole food supply chain. However, the Commission’s proposed measures for combating these practices are restricted to exchanging good practice, information campaigns and preparing voluntary standards for agreements. This approach will change little, if anything at all, and will not eliminate the abnormalities or put a stop to the constant tendency for the income of agricultural producers in Europe to be reduced.

We must not forget that the common agricultural policy also ensures a fair income for farmers and guarantees that prices of the highest-quality food are not extortionate, and that they are stable and transparent for consumers. This is what the report’s proposals offer and I will support them fully.

 
  
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  Derek Vaughan (S&D). – Mr President, I support many of the proposals in this excellent report. There is no doubt that supermarket chains use their position to squeeze small producers. However, I have one area of concern, and that is any proposal that would undermine own-brands.

In the UK, many less well-off consumers purchase these own-brands and remark that the quality is often very good. Also – and I saw this recently myself in Cross Hands Business Park in Wales – there are many small food processing and packaging companies which work for small and large chains producing own-brands. Therefore, while it is very important that we should do absolutely everything to ensure the food supply, we should not do anything which would damage less well-off consumers and small companies.

 
  
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  Oreste Rossi (EFD).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, we support this report insofar as it contains proposals previously put forward by the Lega Nord, in particular, on price transparency linked to paying farmers a fair price for their products, creating zero-kilometre food supply chains and encouraging the maintenance of local product diversity and product quality, thus enhancing the development of local economies.

Indicating a product’s cost at source would make consumers aware of how much passing it through several sets of hands affects the final price and would lead them to choose a short supply chain, thus favouring local producers.

To combat volatility in the agricultural market, it is essential to ban the sale of agricultural products at prices below cost price and to increase checks on products entering the European market, because it often happens – unfortunately – that European farmers abide by EU rules while non-European farmers do not follow them at all. The burden of all that is always borne by our farmers.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) With a view to aiding recovery from the economic and financial crisis, achieving the most efficient functioning of the food supply chain is becoming a particularly important issue. Given the steady decline in citizens’ purchasing power, urgent improvements need to be made to prevent consumer food prices from rising.

I believe that the uneven response by food prices to the fluctuations in commodity prices is mainly linked to the number of intermediaries operating throughout the supply chain.

I am in favour of adopting instruments aimed at promoting and supporting short supply chains and markets where farmers can sell their own produce. This will help establish a direct link between consumers and farmers, enabling the latter to obtain a greater share of the value of the final price, while the general public will benefit from lower prices.

 
  
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  Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (S&D).(PT) Mr President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would also like to add my voice to those congratulating the rapporteur and to those of Members supporting the positions taken in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, which adopted this report by a large majority. I would also just like to call on the Commissioner to take inspiration from the good practices of some Member States, and would refer him to the very specific example of my country, Portugal, which last week adopted important and bold measures in this area, setting a 30 day deadline for paying farmers for perishable goods and one of 60 days for food products for human consumption. I believe that imposing this on the supermarkets constitutes a good example that could be copied at European level and I call on the Commission to take its inspiration from this Member State’s good practices.

 
  
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  Lara Comi (PPE).(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, the primary objective of the common agricultural policy has always been to guarantee fair revenues for farmers, and I believe we should stick to that path.

Following the review instituted by the Commission, a number of discrepancies from the initial principle have come to light which we all cannot overlook. Our farmers are convinced that their work is undervalued in economic terms. Their move from the first stage in the supply chain to become important players in the second stage today is no longer seen as a determining factor for stabilising the final price.

It is necessary to control the fluctuations in commodity prices, which only hurt the consumer. I think it would be useful to review how items move along the supply chain, so as to prevent an increase in the price of goods that is incompatible with a fair distribution of the cost according to the work done.

It is important to check whether the asymmetry in the cost of a product between the first and last stages of the supply chain is rising, thus hurting consumers. There would be a danger of placing products on the market at higher prices that would not reflect an increase in quality.

 
  
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  Dacian Cioloş, Member of the Commission. (FR) Mr President, following this lengthy debate, we have been able to conclude that there is more or less general agreement on the issue raised in Mr Bové’s report, in relation to diagnosis. One problem must be resolved in order to make farmers’ work more efficient, and from what we have been able to observe, opinions differ on the way in which to resolve it, on the scope of the reforms.

In any case, to my mind, one thing is clear: the fact that the common agricultural policy (CAP) has existed now for more than 40 years also proves that the agricultural market needs rules in order to be able to function. These rules do not prevent the market from functioning; on the contrary, they make it more effective and, ultimately, they help to achieve the agri-food sector’s ultimate objective, which is clearly defined in the Treaty of Lisbon: to ensure that markets are supplied with food products and, at the same time, to ensure a fair standard of living for agricultural producers.

In that sense, I do not think that considering the introduction of regulations necessarily means planning the economy and planning production. Rules are necessary, however, just as they are necessary in the agri-food production sectors. It is acknowledged that discussions should perhaps focus on the agri-food chain as a whole.

I am also well aware that, while there are some points that we will be able to address as part of the CAP reform, in order to respond to some of your questions, or indeed, perhaps, to incorporate some of your proposals, I must, of course, work in cooperation with my colleagues within the Commission so that this issue is addressed in a more general manner, particularly as regards those points that, strictly speaking, fall outside the scope of agricultural production.

This is a necessary exercise because, while we can be proud today of our agri-food sector, of our agri-food industry, which is one of the most important, if not the most important, industrial sectors in the European Union, accounting as it does for 13% of the jobs in the European industrial sector and 14% of its turnover, we also have an agricultural commodity production sector that is strong.

This relationship between agricultural production and the agri-food sector must be made clearer precisely so that the end result benefits consumers, but also producers, and so that production can continue.

I am not going to enter into the details of the issues that have been raised; I am simply going to assure you, and to assure Mrs Köstinger, who has now left, that the proposals that I am going to present on the reform of the CAP will follow shortly, in November. I am not a fan of secrecy: the consultation process is simply taking its course. Rest assured, however, that these consultations are along the lines of supporting European agriculture that is both competitive and sustainable, and that is spread across the whole of Europe. It is precisely in order to achieve this objective that agriculture should be seen not only in relation to its region, but also within the food chain.

I look forward to the final vote on this report and I can assure you that some of these proposals are included in the proposals that the Commission is due to present on the future of the CAP.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: Silvana KOCH-MEHRIN
Vice-President

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Madam President, I would like to raise a point of order. Summer is over and here we are all together again in the autumn, but the procedure adopted by the chair still seems to be unclear. Madam President, you are the third chair that I have had the great pleasure of following this session; I notified the chair before your predecessor that I wished to speak in the ‘catch the eye’ procedure. That is not your own personal fault, but I feel it would be fairer if the decision as to who will have opportunity to take the floor could be made earlier. Committee meetings are going on in parallel with plenary and I had been attending a meeting of my Committee on Regional Development. I was not told that apparently I would stand no chance of speaking today. I left that meeting in order to speak here.

Please could it be noted that Members would find it a great help to know whether or not they will be able to take the floor. Had I known this, then – as interesting as the debate has been – I would have stayed at my meeting of the Committee on Regional Development and would not have spent the time waiting here without getting a chance to speak. I apologise, but I would like this to be clarified.

 
  
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  President. – Your comments will certainly be recorded in the minutes of the session. There has been a great deal of interest in participating in the debate in the ‘catch the eye’ procedure, which is, of course, good and is also the point of the procedure. I regret that not everybody who wants to can take the floor. I am sorry that you were unlucky this time and did not have a chance to speak. I hope you have better luck next time.

 
  
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  José Bové, rapporteur. (FR) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, firstly, I am pleased with the debate that we have just had, in which a very large number of Members were able to speak. It is true that, at this time, on the first day of the part-session, there are rather too many of us for this debate, which shows just how interested all of the groups are in the work of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.

The important thing for me is that the report that we have debated, the text that is going to be voted on tomorrow in this House, is a joint text. This has been mentioned by a number of speakers. I am the rapporteur, but this text has been drafted jointly within the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, and I think that that is very important. Everyone came with his or her own idea or story, and we came up with this proposal together. I feel it is important to emphasise this. It is my name that appears on this report, but it is a joint report, and I wanted to reiterate that.

Several speakers stressed the need to safeguard farmers’ incomes through the sale of their agricultural products. That is the very foundation of agriculture. Farmers are paid from the sale of their products, and so to say that, today, farmers cannot sell below production cost is an essential, indispensable condition if we are to continue to have farmers in Europe in the future.

Agricultural policy makes it possible to support, to maintain agricultural activity across regions, and to combat distortions linked to natural handicaps or to the regions. Therefore, the fact is that there will be no common agricultural policy if farmers cannot earn a living from their production in the first place. Farmers are the ones making the strongest calls in this regard, and Parliament has just successfully repeated their demands.

The second point that I feel emerged clearly from our debate just now is the need for transparency all along the food chain. All the speakers came back to this point at various levels, in particular, with regard to the processing sector in negotiations with producers, or with the large-scale distribution sector, which, often, for example in the case of fruit and vegetables, creams off unbelievable profits. Today, all that is acknowledged; this need is no longer in doubt.

Many speakers also focused on the issue of speculation; I am not going to go back over it.

Therefore, I would say that, once the vote has been held tomorrow in plenary – and I believe that all the speeches have demonstrated the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development’s collective will to table this report and to convince all of our fellow Members – once the text is adopted, once it is voted for tomorrow, the ball will be in the Commission’s court. Moreover, I should like to say to the Commissioner: it is now up to you to take action. This is an initiative that we are taking. We are making proposals to you.

Our expectation, of course, is that this work will now be taken up by the Commission and the Council, since it is clear that Parliament alone will be unable to do anything. On the other hand, by working together, we will be able to build a new common agricultural policy. Above all, however, we will be able to give hope to European farmers.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place on Tuesday, 7 September 2010 at 12:30.

The next item is a statement by the Commission on human rights in Iran, in particular, the cases of Sakineh Mohammadi-Ashtiani and of Zahra Bahrami.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Luis Manuel Capoulas Santos (S&D), in writing.(PT) I congratulate the rapporteur and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development on voting significantly in favour of this report as well as on the commitment and priority that Members have given to this issue. The recent situation of extreme price volatility has revealed a clear asymmetry between the prices for consumers and the prices paid to small producers, so providing evidence of clear inequalities in the food supply chain.

The abuse of bargaining power is strangling small producers in particular. I therefore call on this House to vote in favour by a large majority, so that this signal from the European Parliament can encourage the European Commission and national governments to adopt appropriate measures. Recently, for example, the Portuguese Government has bravely imposed on the supermarkets a 30 day deadline for paying farmers for perishable goods and one of 60 days for food products for human consumption; the aim is to achieve greater balance in contractual relationships between processors, distributors and producers within the food chain.

 
  
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  Robert Dušek (S&D), in writing.(CS) Guaranteeing fair incomes for our farmers is one of the main goals of the common agricultural policy. We are aware of the problematic situation in the food market. Farmers are at a disadvantage in negotiations with wholesalers and supermarket chains and forced to accept ever lower purchase prices for their foodstuffs, while citizens purchase basic foods at the same price or at ever increasing prices. Seller profit margins from the farmer to the purchaser are upwards of 200%. The report highlights a number of unfair contractual practices, limited market access and charges that are levied on producers for their inclusion in the supply of food products in the retail sector, late and delayed payments, unilateral changes to contracts, and the like. The situation in the food market needs to be addressed without delay and a legislative framework for the management of purchase and sales prices needs to be found. It would help to have price transparency in the food chain, which would increase competitiveness, limit price fluctuations and contribute to awareness among partners in the market regarding supply, demand, prices, and bargaining. In my view, however, the only effectively functioning instrument is to define the minimum prices that cover production costs. This would then guarantee an equitable income for farmers and would limit sales at a loss. This price could be the reference price in the framework of negotiations between producer organisations and downstream sectors of the food chain.

 
  
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  Jim Higgins (PPE), in writing. – This report won't automatically rectify the situation where farmers, as the primary producers, are, in many cases, exploited by processors and the retail chain sector. What it does is shine the light on unfair practices and the need for the Commission and Member State governments to act collectively to bridge the gap between the production cost of farmers and the cost when the product arrives in the shopping basket. When the report was debated in Committee, I highlighted the recent but now improved situation where milk producers were producing milk at a cost of 27 cents per litre while being paid 5 cents less than the production cost. What is important is that the report is not left gathering dust but that its recommendations are acted on.

 
  
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  Véronique Mathieu (PPE), in writing.(FR) Mr Bové’s own-initiative report addresses the altogether crucial issue of farmers’ revenues. Food prices have risen by 3.3% per year since 1996, while the prices farmers receive have risen by only 2.1% and their operational costs have increased by 3.6%.

As an MEP, I fully understand the difficulties, which are at times insurmountable, faced by French and European farmers. European aid that is provided on a one-off basis, in the wake of specific sectoral crises, cannot improve the long-term situation of farmers. That is why the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development decided to draft this report on farmers’ revenues, which is intended as an appeal to the European Commission to undertake an in-depth analysis of the food supply chain.

The obscurity of practices curbs any efforts to resolve the considerable tensions between the various operators, and any attempts to correct the imbalances in order to have fairer distribution. Farmers actually want solutions to the inconsistencies observed by the institutions themselves.

 
  
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  Rareş-Lucian Niculescu (PPE), in writing.(RO) The report drafted by Mr Bové certainly touches on one of the most sensitive current issues. The economic crisis has hit farmers’ incomes particularly hard and measures need to be taken to help farms and rural households get back on their feet. However, measures are also required to support their modernisation because modernisation is the only way we can guarantee their competitiveness and a reasonable level of income for them. This is why I would like to express my own view by saying that I believe that the report ought to have dealt with the subject of rural development as well, which is one of the basic solutions to the problems in European farming, especially in the new Member States.

 
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