I can confirm that I have engaged on several occasions with the European Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, in recent weeks. The purpose of my engagement with him has been to highlight the economic impact the COVID-19 pandemic is having on our agrifood sector, as well as the need to have a strong European response to deal with the crisis.
At this extremely difficult time, the protection of human life and health is vital, and is a shared priority amongst my European colleagues. However, it is also clear that the crisis is likely to impose significant economic impacts, including for the agriculture sector. In this regard, I welcome the measures introduced by the Commission to date to support the sector, including the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, the temporary State Aid framework and the payment flexibilities provided for under the current CAP regulations. However, I believe a more extensive, specific response targeted at the agriculture sector is required.
I wrote to Commissioner Wojciechowski in early March, and again in early April, urging him to consider the implementation of support measures under the Common Organisation of the Market (CMO) Regulation. In between, on 25 March, I took part in a video-conference meeting of EU Agriculture Ministers with the Commissioner and took the opportunity to highlight the potential economic impact the COVID-19 crisis will have on Ireland’s agrifood sector. I again urged the Commissioner to consider the deployment of market support measures, and called for further flexibilities to be shown in relation to CAP Pillar I and Pillar II payments. I subsequently reinforced these messages in a one-to-one video conference call with the Commissioner on Wednesday 15 April.
Throughout this time, I also engaged with my European colleagues to seek a strong, shared EU response, following which I secured the participation of every single Member State in a strong Joint Statement calling for a common European response to a pan-European problem, which my officials submitted to the Commissioner's office on Thursday 16 April.
I am pleased to say that after this strong show of European solidarity the Commission swiftly announced a programme of support for the sector including Aids for Private Storage for the meat and dairy sector, and flexibilities with regard to control measures and scheme implementation.
I intend to continue a sustained engagement at the highest level with the European Commission on this matter. In that regard, I have again spoken personally to Commissioner Wojciechowski on 7 May to highlight the need for an ongoing focus on the challenges to the sector at this time, and the continued requirement for a strong, common approach at European level. I will stress this point further at the video conference of European Agriculture Ministers with the Commissioner on 13 May.