30.4.2004   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 112/114


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘proposal for a Council Regulation on actions in the field of beekeeping’

(COM(2004) 30 final - 2004/0003 (CNS))

(2004/C 112/29)

On 30 January 2004, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 37 of the Treaty establishing the European Community, on the above-mentioned proposal

On 24 February 2004, the Bureau of the European Economic and Social Committee decided to instruct the Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment to undertake the preparatory work.

In view of the urgent nature of the work, the European Economic and Social Committee decided at its 407th plenary session of 31 March and 1 April 2004 (meeting of 1 April) to appoint Mr Joan Caball i Subirana as rapporteur-general and adopted the following opinion unanimously.

1.   Introduction

1.1

Following its 1994 Communication on European apiculture (1), the Commission proposed a Regulation laying down general rules for the application of measures to improve the production and marketing of honey, which was adopted by the Council in June 1997 (Reg. (EC) No. 1221/97) (2).

1.2

In November 1997, the Commission issued Regulation (EC) No. 2300/97 (3) laying down the rules for implementing the Regulation 1221/97 and in June 2001, in line with Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No. 1221/97, the Commission presented its first three-yearly report on the application of this Regulation in the Member States. In this report, the Commission concluded that the Regulation had been applied satisfactorily and therefore recommended leaving it unchanged.

1.3

In January 2004, the Commission presented its second assessment report on the application of national programmes in the Member States in which it proposes adopting a new regulation with a view to adapting the beekeeping sector's objectives to the current situation in the Community.

2.   Gist of the proposal

2.1

The Commission proposes establishing national programmes for a period of three years, with the following measures:

a.

technical assistance to beekeepers and groupings of beekeepers;

b.

control of varroasis;

c.

rationalisation of transhumance;

d.

measures to support the restocking of hives in the Community;

e.

cooperation with specialised bodies for the implementation of applied research programmes in the field of beekeeping and apiculture products.

2.2

Under this new regulation, measures financed under Regulation (EC) No 1257/99 (4) will be excluded from the apiculture programmes.

2.3

The Member States must carry out a study of the production and marketing structure in the beekeeping sector in their territory, which they must communicate to the Commission with the apiculture programme.

2.4

The Community will provide part-financing equivalent to 50 %, while expenditure by the Member States must be made by 15 October each year at the latest. The Commission will present a report on the implementation of this Regulation to the European Parliament and the Council every three years.

3.   General comments

3.1

Beekeeping has a number of unique characteristics that set it apart from other types of agricultural activity. Its main functions are rural development, helping to maintain the ecological balance, and, as an economic activity, the production of honey and other beekeeping products. It is important to point out that bees play a vital role as primary pollinating agents and in terms of their contribution to maintaining biodiversity. In this connection, the FAO estimates that the economic value of entomophilous pollination by bees is twenty times the commercial value of all beekeeping products (5). In some Member States, beekeeping is practised in less prosperous regions and is the only way of maintaining the rural fabric and agricultural employment.

3.2

The Committee wishes to point out that Regulation (EC) No 1221/97 is the only common support instrument for beekeepers in the European Union and must therefore be retained. However, this instrument is based on a part-financing system that falls far short of aid currently provided under the Common Agricultural Policy and is by no means sufficient to resolve structural difficulties and guarantee the profitability of bee farms in the European Union. The European beekeeping sector is subject to an unstable market that is very dependent on world honey prices, to increasing climatic adversity caused by climate change and to bee losses in some regions as a result of external contamination.

3.3

The EESC believes that the complex nature of this Regulation in administrative terms and the excessive inflexibility when it comes to fulfilling the expenditure and investment criteria, together with the fact that the EAGGF financial year and that of the Member States end at different times (15 October and 31 December respectively) and the national programmes have different deadlines each year, make it considerably harder for countries to use the expenditure allocated to them. The EESC therefore calls on the Commission and the Council to harmonise the criteria used to determine expenditure and investment eligible for aid, in order to ensure that the scheme used to allocate aid to each country guarantees as fair a level of support as possible for all European beekeepers.

3.4

The Commission points out that the aim of controlling varroasis and other related diseases is to reduce the cost of treating hives. In its report it therefore recommends treating hives with approved products (i.e. those that do not leave any residue in the honey) as this is the only way of avoiding the consequences of this disease. In this regard, the EESC reiterates the need to encourage the pharmaceutical industry to conduct studies and research into new molecules that reduce the incidence of varroasis, as this is one of the main reasons for the emergence of other related diseases and accounts for 41 % of programmed expenditure in most Member States.

3.5

Controlling varroasis and other related diseases must continue to be one of the priority tasks of the sector. It is therefore important for this Regulation to provide for part-financing of this measure and for a genuine veterinary policy to control bee diseases to be implemented by the relevant Community institutions.

3.6

A number of Committee opinions (6) have already pointed to the need for the proposed regulation to refer to the movement of honey in the internal market and other aspects relating to the world honey market. The Commission should lay down quality standards for honey produced in the European Union and encourage the consumption of high-quality European honey under internal promotion policy and by using the PDOs, PGIs and TSGs. Furthermore, as the Commission recognises in its report, account should be taken of the extremely important consequences for the honey market of China's entry into the WTO, as well as plans to review existing preferential agreements and even draw up new ones. These agreements are permanent instruments of free trade policy in the world market and cause unfair competition and lower producer prices and incomes, to the detriment of European producers.

3.7

The Committee wishes to point out that quality control measures for honey have proved to be effective and should therefore be stepped up, both for imported honey and honey produced in the EU (analysis of floral origin and residues). These quality control measures, which are already one of the few stabilising factors in the market, are even more important in the light of the new Directive on labelling (7), this being, moreover, the only way of distinguishing Community honey from imported honey. The EESC believes that for all these reasons the honey analyses measure should not be abolished, as proposed by the Commission. The EESC therefore proposes either leaving the title of the Council Regulation as it is or changing it to: ‘On actions to improve production and marketing in the field of beekeeping’.

3.8

The EESC believes it would be a good idea to strengthen the principle of cooperation between the competent authorities in the Member States and representative organisations and cooperatives in the beekeeping sector, as this will help improve the way in which programmes are managed and ensure that they are administered transparently.

3.9

In view of the contribution of beekeeping to rural development and maintaining the ecological balance, the Committee believes that it needs to be afforded higher levels of support and protection, as existing aid under Regulation (EC) No. 1221/97 is not sufficient to guarantee the profitability of bee farms or prevent the disappearance of professional beekeeping.

3.10

The EESC stresses the importance of aid granted under Regulation (EC) 1221/97 in terms of developing the sector and boosting the number of professionals working in it, both of which are essential to achieving a multifunctional European agriculture. Despite the budgetary restrictions which the Commission itself recognises, both the total amount allocated and the part-financing percentage laid down in this Regulation need to be increased.

3.11

The Committee points to the need for the Member States to carry out an in-depth study of the structure of the sector. This study, which will be submitted annually by the Member States to the Commission as part of the three-yearly national programmes and will cover production, marketing and price formation, is an essential tool for providing statistics on the changing face of beekeeping in the European Union.

3.12

In order to raise awareness among young people, in particular, about job opportunities in beekeeping, the Committee believes that the proposal's priority objectives must include vocational training programmes for young beekeepers.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

The Committee welcomes the Commission's proposal to extend actions in the sector to all beekeeping products. However, it also points out that calls by the Council of the European Union (8) to significantly improve the proposals put forward by the Commission have thus far been ignored.

4.2

The EESC is in favour of tripling, at least, the total amount of aid (currently EUR 16.5 million for the EU of 15) in order to meet the needs of the sector and proposes increasing the percentage of financing covered by the EAGGF Guarantee Section to at least 75 % of expenditure. Moreover, the Committee believes it is essential for the budget to be increased in view of imminent EU enlargement. The next enlargement in May 2004 is the sixth and most important enlargement in terms of the number of new members. Because beekeeping is such an important agricultural sector in the accession countries, the number of hives in Europe is expected to rise by 30 %. The existing budget would therefore fall far short of meeting the demands of an EU of 25.

4.3

The Committee believes it is important for a European observatory to be set up with the 2 % of the budget that the Regulation allocates for carrying out joint actions drawn up jointly by the Commission and sector representatives, in line with the principle of cooperation laid down in the Regulation itself.

4.4

The EESC points out that Community legislation (9) lays down that, as of 1 January 2005, the traceability of food must be ensured in the production and processing stages. Aid should therefore be provided to cover expenditure in this area and ensure that products are of a high quality.

4.5

The EESC has serious reservations about the Commission's proposal for national programmes to be drawn up every three years as, while this could be simpler in administrative terms for the Member States, it would complicate the necessary annual presentation and review of national programmes. This would be a major disincentive to using such aid and would also increase the administrative problems currently experienced in some EU Member States. This in turn would have a detrimental impact on European beekeepers who already complain that in some Member States efforts are concentrated on measures that do not benefit them directly.

4.6

The Committee recalls that available funds are distributed annually on the basis of the Member States' estimates of expenditure and the number of hives. The EESC supports the idea of three-yearly national programmes, providing that they are subject to an annual review. This review must coincide with the distribution of funds, as has been the case until now, and be accompanied by mechanisms for reallocating funds that certain Member States are unlikely to be able to spend to other Member States, during each EAFFG financial year.

4.7

The EESC welcomes the European Parliament's resolution (10) of 9 October 2003 and is in favour of implementing measures to halt the decline in the bee population and promote its immediate recovery. It therefore welcomes the measures to support the restocking of hives in the Community proposed by the Commission, as this is an explicit recognition of the gravity of this problem.

4.8

In the EESC's view, there is a need for new support instruments, inter alia additional funding for controlling varroasis and other bee diseases (account must also be taken of the emergence of new diseases) to offset the high cost of veterinary medicines.

4.9

The EESC believes it is also necessary to introduce a pollination premium to reflect the environmental contribution of bees in terms of maintaining biodiversity and the natural environment and an annual compensatory premium to offset income lost due to the fact that there is no Community preference in the European beekeeping sector.

4.10

The Committee believes that the proposed Regulation will do what its title suggests and urgently address the promotion and marketing of high-quality honey and consumer protection, by including measures to promote joint marketing, investment in packaging and classification centres, and measures to promote beekeeping products in general. It would therefore be a very good idea for this Regulation to retain the honey analyses measure, as it is a fundamental and strategic tool for promoting European beekeeping products and for protecting food quality and safety for consumers.

4.11

In order to improve the instrument for providing statistical data on the structure of the beekeeping sector, the EESC calls for Commission support and recommends setting up national observatories in the Member States in cooperation with producers' organisations. The main task of these observatories would be to monitor prices at source, in the internal market and across borders, update production costs (i.e. fixed and variable costs of bee farms) and assess the inventory of national hives, marketing structures and packaging costs.

Brussels, 1 April 2004

The President

of the European Economic and Social Committee

Roger BRIESCH


(1)  COM(94) 256 final

(2)  OJ L 173 of 1.7.1997, p. 1. Regulation as amended by Regulation (EC) No 2070/98 (OJ L 265 of 30.9.1998, p. 1).

(3)  OJ L 319 of 21.11.1997

(4)  OJ L 160 of 26.6.1999, p. 80. Regulation as last amended by Regulation (EC) No 1783/2003 (OJ L 270 of 21.10.2003, p. 70).

(5)  Information taken from the publication Frutales y abejas, Juan B. Rallo García, 1986, MAPA, Agricultural Advisory Service Publications, Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, NIPO: 253-86-034-2, ISBN: 84-341-0529-2, p. 13.

(6)  Opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the Proposal for a Council Regulation (EC) laying down general rules for theapplication of measures to improve the production and marketing of honey. OJ C 206 of 7.7.1997, p. 60.

(7)  Council Directive 2001/110/EC of 20 December 2001 relating to honey. OJ L 10, 12.1.2002, p. 47-52.

(8)  2410th meeting of the Agriculture Council, Brussels, 18 February 2004

(9)  Regulation (EC) No 178/2002 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 28 January 2002; OJ L 31 of 1.2.2002, p. 1-24.

(10)  Resolution on the difficulties faced by the European beekeeping sector – Reference: RSP/2003/2569