Collocutor Radan Kanev, Bulgarian member of the European Parliament, Group of the European People’s Party, Democratic Bulgaria Coalition, Committee on Employment and Social Affairs, Committee on the Environment and Public Health, Committee on Petitions
The role of farmers for achieving the green economy goals
This is a core question of the European policy, which is extremely important. I think this debate is very weak in Bulgaria. Agriculture is a cornerstone of the common European policies. CAP is not just the policy with the largest budget share, it is also the most detailed and the oldest in terms of European funding. On the other hand, in the last two decades the environmental footprint of agriculture has been a matter of very serious discussions. First with regard to the natural resources and second to the pollution: use of pesticides, the consequences of livestock (methane toxic emissions, ammonia emissions from swine and poultry) and not least the effect on the climate, which is considered from two perspectives: 1) greenhouse emissions from agricultural activities and especially from livestock and 2) the capacity of agriculture to absorb carbon dioxide and have the reverse role of contributing to the carbon neutrality that Europe is pursuing. The topic is nearly immeasurable and extremely conflicting politically in the European institutions.
The challenges that the amendments to the industrial emissions directive and the introduction of the complex permit for livestock production systems with over 150 units pose to the Bulgarian stockbreeders
This is a key topic. There is a report on the amendments to the industrial emissions directive where I was the rapporteur (in the Committee on the Environment and Public Health). Two or three significant modifications of the current regime are being discussed. So far its complex permit requirement covered pig farms with over 4000 units and poultry farms with over 22 000 (if I remember correctly) units, for Bulgaria that will be hens and chicken. Firstly, the Commission proposed to change numbers with units with the use of special formulae (tables). Generally speaking, a livestock unit corresponds to the emissions of an adult cow. We are talking about a reduction from 4000 to (depending on the size) around 2000, 2200 for pig farms and a considerable reduction of around 12 000 for poultry farms. It is much more detailed, of course, because it takes age, weight and role in animal breeding into account. Nevertheless, it is obviously about a reduction in the number of farms covered by the Directive, a considerable reduction. What generates great interest and political tension is the proposal to include cattle breeding. Cattle farms to be included in the directive if breeding 150 cows or more, which has not been the case so far, since 2010 mostly for political reasons; neither it was in the preceding directives, which the new one combined. The key thing is whether the number 150 for livestock units will remain or be increased, which was my proposal in my capacity of rapporteur and what will be the fate of extensive livestock breeding, especially for cattle. In my report the proposal is to set the number at 300 livestock units for all kinds of livestock and to exclude the extensive breeding of cows and swine from the directive. The definition of extensive livestock breeding is a very delicate matter because in the course of work, of in-depth research and contacts with the EC it was established no unified definition exists for extensive breeding at EU level.
Are there other member states that are our allies in this initiative?
Yes, in the Council the directive is being debated very intensely and the most sensitive is the agricultural topic. A political consensus is emerging to exclude the extensive livestock breeding at the level of the governments and we are monitoring carefully the negotiations in the Council. The definition is on the agenda but there is no final solution as yet. The number of animals per size of territory is being discussed but also the manner of feeding – the bigger the percentage of pasture feeding, the easier it will be to define a production system as extensive. Also, the smaller the number of animals per hectare. We discuss how waste is being treated, fertilizers, the number of hours that the animals spend in the open, whether pastures are rotated. The Bulgarian livestock breeding will largely correspond to the definition of extensive under most of these indicators but neither the Parliament nor the Council have come up with a final definition yet.
Will the energy renovation of buildings affect agricultural producers?
The parliamentary plenary session will start in Strasbourg in a week and there the final composition of the committee for the energy features of buildings directive will be voted. At the moment it includes agricultural buildings, as well as all industrial and residential buildings. They will all be confronted with the requirement to increase their energy efficiency and reduce their energy consumption. I do not think this should be considered a problem. At the background of the current unstable energy market, we should consider this an opportunity and not a problem. Naturally, we should also discuss the financial instruments that will support the owners through the process.
The trends in the emissions from agriculture have not been very favourable either for Bulgaria or the EU. Have any additional measures been envisaged?
There are at least two more extremely important pieces of legislation that will also be voted next week in Strasbourg. These are the general Regulation establishing the framework for achieving climate neutrality and the specific legislative act for reducing emission from agriculture in particular. With regard to both the discussions are towards increased ambitions for substantial reduction. Both are strongly problematic and quite separating precisely because the burden, financial and organizational, as well as documental falls on the farmers, which is always a source of serious tension. You know that European agriculture is heavily subsidized on the one hand but on the other the environment is extremely competitive with greater requirements to the European farmers than to their competitors in North and South America, mostly. Don’t forget that farmers are very influential politically. At the moment both from the perspective of toxic pollution and climate effect and carbon emissions the contribution of agriculture is falling behind compared to the industry. This is mostly due to the strong and concentrated political influence of agricultural producers and communities, especially in the Western European states. France will be a classic example.
Where can Bulgarian producers find answers to their questions and how can they join the discussions so that they can influence the forthcoming European legislation and the future policy?
Apart from our offices at the EP that are always at their disposal, they should be in close communication with the Ministry of Agriculture. It takes an active part in the forming of the position in the Council on all these legislative acts. So, they should both get informed of the risks and estimate the possible benefits.