Brexit taskforce takes shape

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The European Commission has announced plans to set up a taskforce to prepare and conduct Brexit negotiations with the UK.

According to Commission President Jean Claude Juncker, it will be composed of individuals from across the commission who are the “best and brightest” with extensive knowledge and experience.

As announced over the summer, Frenchman Michel Barnier will lead the taskforce, bringing to the table his experience as an MEP, European commissioner and French politician. Ms Sabine Weyand, currently Deputy Director-General in the commission’s trade department will be his deputy. Ms Weyand is German and in recent years has been dealing with WTO matters, trade defence and trade deals with the US.

The taskforce will begin its work from October 1.

Scrap CAP to boost nature, conference told

Last week, the European Committee of the Regions in Brussels hosted a European Environmental Bureau conference entitled “Actions for Nature: Getting Europe on track to meet its 2020 targets”.

The event featured panelists from the European Commission’s DG Environment, several national environmental ministries and environmental NGOs. Coming on the same day as the publication of the State of Nature report, the main focus of the conference was the perceived erosion of biodiversity through habitat loss, pollution, and overexploitation of resources, invasive alien species and climate change.

Last year, the EU published research that it was failing its efforts to halt this by 2020. With the European Commission due to present the outcomes of its Fitness Check on the Habitats and Birds directives – known as the Nature Directives – the conference was deliberately timed to discuss the issue.

The general consensus was that the directives are not being adequately implemented and that too much flexibility has been left to member states.

A key theme of the day was the perceived negative impact of agriculture on biodiversity. The CAP was largely condemned, with agri environment schemes deemed ineffective. Many of the panellists and contributors in the audience called for a Fitness Check for the CAP, while others demanded that the CAP in its current form be scrapped to make way for a new agriculture policy.

Juncker to stand by

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European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker last week used his State of the European Union speech to pledge solidarity with Europe’s farmers.

During his address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker promised that the EU would “always stand by our farmers”, particularly during difficult times.

Referring specifically to the dairy sector, Mr Juncker lamented the fact that milk was cheaper than water. He also promised to ensure that every European village had access to “free wireless internet access around the main centres of public life by 2020.”

The commission president also spoke of his ambition to provide €500 billion worth of investment through the European Fund for Strategic Investments. Referring to Brexit, Mr Juncker rejected suggestions that the Brexit vote would trigger the disintegration of the EU: “Allow me to state, we respect and at the same time regret the UK’s decision, but the EU as such is not at risk” he said.

Mr Juncker had been expected to use the speech to call for tighter controls on the European food supply chain, however this was scrapped at the last minute.

Finally, President Juncker criticised member states for failing to reach a decision on whether to ban glyphosate, forcing the European Commission to decide. “This is not democracy” he told the parliament.