Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Agriculture Sector: European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development

5:00 pm

Photo of Andrew DoyleAndrew Doyle (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Apologies have been received from Deputy Michael McNamara. I remind members, witnesses and persons in the Visitors Gallery to please turn off their mobile phones. There is one item on the agenda, which is the address by Mr. Phil Hogan, European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. I am very pleased on behalf of the committee to welcome the Commissioner to our joint committee to give us an overview of the developments in the agriculture sector since his appointment last November. This committee is following closely the process of Common Agricultural Policy simplification proposed by the Commissioner at the outset of his term. The committee submission, which I presented to the Commissioner on behalf of the committee for his consideration, contains our views on the process of simplification. We prioritised simplification in our work programme for 2015 and we will be following the measures associated with this as they emerge from the Commission.

We have been actively engaged in other issues, including proposals contained in each COM as part of our ongoing process of EU scrutiny. The committee most recently sent a political contribution on COM (2015) 177 regarding changes to the process of GMO use within the EU. The committee notes that several other member states have likewise sent contributions on the topic to the Commission. We look forward to receiving from the Commission a response to our contribution and to the proposal, and we will continue to monitor its development and developments in the GMO sector.

We are also aware that the Russian ban on EU agricultural products presents an ongoing challenge to the EU agriculture sector. The committee welcomes the measures introduced by Commissioner Hogan to mitigate the impact of the ban and is interested to hear the Commissioner's views on how the situation might develop over the next few months. The committee scrutinised closely the impact of the abolition of milk quotas earlier in the year and we compiled the Managing Market Volatility in the Dairy Sector report in which we advocated a cautious approach to the expansion of the dairy sector. We are also interested to hear the Commissioner's views on the industry after the removal of quotas.

Earlier today, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, came before a joint meeting of the Committees on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, European Union Affairs and Agriculture, Food and the Marine to brief members on the current position regarding the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, which may turn out to be the largest trade agreement ever negotiated and will have significant impact on Irish agriculture. The committee is also monitoring closely the developments on the negotiations. Another area which we have covered is the equity in prices along the chain in the food retail sector. The committee is very interested to hear the Commissioner's strategy for developing producer organisations in his term, as was outlined in the previous Common Agricultural Policy agreement.

A delegation of the committee met Commissioner Hogan in Brussels in March before undertaking a visit to the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, demonstrating the committee's commitment to engage with European agricultural policy. On that occasion, we presented the Commissioner with a copy of our Land Use - Maximising its Potential report, which we have identified as a further key area for ongoing negotiations. I look forward to hearing, as I am sure my colleagues do, the Commissioner's views on the topics outlined. No doubt members will have questions on the basis of the issues raised. We have no non-members present.

As I said to the Commissioner earlier, I have to bring the matter of privilege to his attention. Witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to the committee. However, if directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in relation to a particular matter and the Commissioner continues to do so, he is entitled thereafter only to qualified privilege in respect of his evidence. He is directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and he is asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible he should not criticise or make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable. Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against either a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.

I understand a copy of the Commissioner's opening statement is being circulated to members. I invite the Commissioner to make his opening statement.