Will ‘Team Juncker’ help build a sustainable European food system?

October 27th 2014


Erik Gerritsen

The LiveWell for LIFE project continues to engage with EU decision makers to build support for a healthier and more sustainable European food system. Clear policies are needed to achieve this; will the new Commission take a lead?

On 22 October, after weeks of intense political discussion between the European Parliament and the proposed incoming European Commission, the Parliament elected the new Commission which will take office on 1 November. What’s new in the Juncker Commission is that all Commissioners report to five vice-presidents responsible for cross-cutting issues:

  • Digital Single Market;
  • Energy Union;
  • Euro & Social Dialogue;
  • Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness;
  • Budget & Human Resources.

Although such broad headings could still mean many things, they give an indication of the Commission’s focus until the next election.

After heavy pressure by the Parliament, the new Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker officially announced his agreement to include sustainable development as a horizontal priority to his right-hand ‘First’ Vice-President Frans Timmermans. Juncker stressed that all Commissioners are obliged by the EU treaty to ensure sustainable development through their policies.

The new Commissioner for Environment Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maltese Karmelu Vella’s mission letter from President Juncker recommends a continuation of the Commission’s current ‘Green Growth’ agenda. At the same time, the letter suggests that environmental policy objectives play second violin to those aimed to increase competitiveness, growth and jobs. From this perspective, the proposed revisions of the established Birds and Habitats Directives and the recently adopted Circular Economy Package are interpreted by civil society organisations as efforts to weaken their environmental standards.

What does it mean for the Commission’s recent preparations for policies to build a more sustainable European food system? The only thing we know is that the responsibility on food waste reduction has been officially moved from the Environment to the Health & Food Safety Commissioner.  The mission letters for the other key incoming Commissioners on Agriculture (Phil Hogan, Ireland); Internal Market & Industry (Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Poland) and Health & Food Safety (Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis, Lithuania) do not include a reference to food waste or food sustainability. Their recent hearings by the European Parliament suggest the same.

It therefore seems unlikely the incoming Commission will take leadership on food sustainability without an external impulse. Unlike what has been suggested, European food industry did not block the Commission’s plans. In fact the main food-related industries joined forces in April already to show their support. The only ones with legislative power to make the incoming Commission to get its act together are Parliament and Council. Earlier this month, the Parliament already sent a very clear signal. Many Member States, such as the Netherlands (page 9), actively supported a more coherent EU approach to food sustainability. With the Juncker Commission in place, now is the time to revive this agenda – with Frans Timmermans as the guardian of both sustainability and policy coherence.

Erik Gerritsen

LiveWell Policy Officer –WWF-EPO

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