EU Commission set to re-focus on Juncker priorities

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The coming months will see the European Commission getting back to the job of implementing the principles espoused by its President Jean Claude Juncker, according to the organisation’s representative in Belfast Colette Fitzgerald.

“The Commission has been in crisis mode over the past year, with issues such as the Syrian refugee emergency, the financial downturn in Greece and the ISIS threat taking precedence,” she said.

“However, President Juncker has made it clear that 2016 will be marked by a return to the implementation of the 10 core policy issues which go to the very heart of the current Commission’s agenda for the period 2014 to 2019.

“And for agriculture this means ensuring that the industry has a sustainable future. A key driver in this regard will be the simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Fitzgerald pointed out that the share of the European budget dedicated to agriculture is now declining.

“This is because EU citizens now have a much wider agenda when it comes to the ways in which their funds are invested. But the maintenance of a vibrant and sustainable farming industry remains a core principle of the European Union.”

Fitzgerald confirmed that the Commission will seek to make cheaper finance options available to the farming industry over the coming years.

“Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has already announced the use that will be made of the European Investment Fund in this regard,” she said.

“But where Northern Ireland is concerned the onus will be on the Stormont Executive to make this happen, as the initial draw down of funds must be co-ordinated through national or regional authorities.”

Fitzgerald said that a UK withdrawal from the European Union will have implications for local agriculture.

“But the Commission will not be actively canvassing for a yes vote. We will remain totally neutral on the matter. However, we will step in to correct misinformation that may be put into the public domain courtesy of the upcoming debate on the UK’s membership of the European Union,” she added.