16.12.2014   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 451/142


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 and Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 as regards the aid scheme for the supply of fruit and vegetables, bananas and milk in the educational establishments’

(COM(2014) 32 final — 2014/0014 (COD))

(2014/C 451/23)

Rapporteur:

Adalbert Kienle

On 6 February 2014 the European Parliament and, on 19 February 2014, the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 43 and Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 and Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013 as regards the aid scheme for the supply of fruit and vegetables, bananas and milk in the educational establishments.

COM(2014) 32 final — 2014/0014 (COD).

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 19 June 2014.

At its 500th plenary session, held on 9 and 10 July 2014 (meeting of 9 July), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion unanimously by185 votes in favour with 2 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

The EESC supports the creation of a common legal and financial framework for the EU's school fruit and milk schemes, which until now have been managed and funded separately.

1.2

The EESC especially welcomes the greater emphasis placed on pedagogical support in the scheme, which, if the potential were fully realised, would contribute significantly to tackling child obesity and food waste.

1.3

The EESC expects to see substantial administrative and organisational streamlining; the Member States should be given sufficient scope for their own priorities and specific circumstances.

1.4

The EESC recommends that clear priority be given to sustainable European products that are as fresh, seasonal and regional/local as possible.

2.   Introduction

2.1

Separate European school schemes have been established at different times. While originally the chief aim was to promote sales, the focus has since shifted to providing children with healthy food. The school milk scheme was introduced back in 1977 as part of the Market Organisation for milk. Approximately 20 million children annually have taken part in recent years. The school fruit scheme was born of a political commitment in the context of the 2007 reform of the Common Market Organisation for fruit and vegetables, and has recently benefited 8,6 million children. Despite their having similar objectives and target groups, the schemes were subject to different legal and financial conditions, and also differed in design and implementation. Neither scheme has been used to its full extent, with usage varying considerably among Member States.

2.2

In response to unambiguous criticism from the European Court of Auditors and following a detailed assessment of both schemes and public consultation, the European Commission has now proposed a common legal and financial framework for the supply of fruit, vegetables and milk to schoolchildren, which is also meant to address additional flaws and shortcomings. Above all, greater emphasis is to be placed on the schemes' pedagogical aspect.

2.3

The new scheme is to be financed using the increased Common Agricultural Policy 2020 appropriations for school aid schemes, giving it an annual budget of EUR 230 million (EUR 150 million for the school fruit scheme and EUR 80 million for the school milk scheme).

3.   General comments

3.1

The EESC strongly supports EU-subsidised schemes to supply agricultural products to children and adolescents in schools. The Committee notes that it strongly opposed an earlier Commission plan in 1999 to withdraw EU aid for the school milk scheme.

3.2

The EESC underlines the profound importance of balanced nutrition for children and school pupils. Poverty, which has increased as a result of the financial and economic crisis, is a significant risk factor in terms of children's and adolescents' nutrition. An alarmingly high number of children go to school each day on an empty stomach. Growing obesity and food waste are both serious social challenges.

3.3

Even though Member State participation is to remain voluntary, the EESC hopes to see the new school aid scheme implemented and used to its full extent across all Member States. The EESC is confident that this would bring about a permanent increase in the proportion of fruit, vegetables and milk products in children's diets.

3.4

The EESC particularly welcomes the stronger emphasis on pedagogical support by the EU, and feels that this vindicates the Committee's previous recommendations. Instilling healthier eating habits in children of school age and fostering an understanding of agriculture and food supply chains should be seen by the state as well as by schools, parents, agri-food businesses, civil society and the media as a duty and a civic task to which everyone can contribute.

3.5

Pivotal to the success of these schemes are teachers, an increasing number of whom, happily, are interested and active in them. One particular motivation for them could be the additional support for the schemes provided by national top-ups or sponsors and civil society groups, the latter being particularly useful for controversial social issues. The EESC therefore supports the pilot projects launched by the Commission for disadvantaged and vulnerable social groups.

3.6

The Committee also strongly supports the proposal for more opportunities to foster understanding of the local agri-food sector, including its products, work and social benefits, for instance by creating school gardens, through school trips or product tastings on farms and in craft workshops, or by passing a ‘nutritional driving test’. The EESC considers the approach followed in some Member States, whereby farmers deliver milk directly to schools and are thus in constant contact with children, to be exemplary.

3.7

The EESC also welcomes the scope for discussing agricultural products such as olive oil and honey on occasion, as well as issues connected to organic farming. The same goes for issues related to the environment or food waste. The EESC recommends that the support measures be assessed at a very early stage.

3.8

An EU school aid scheme can only be successful if it accounts for national and regional characteristics, circumstances in nurseries and schools, and the expectations of children and parents. The consultations have made clear that excessive administrative and organisational red tape is a common annoyance, and even seen as a reason to opt out of the existing schemes altogether, which is why it is all the more important to the EESC that the practical arrangements for the new scheme include clear synergies. Schools, participating businesses and authorities should have to deal with much less administrative and organisational red tape.

3.9

The extra provision made for subsidising logistics and equipment — for refrigerating fresh foodstuffs for example — is seen as appropriate and important by the EESC.

3.10

The EESC considers it right that the supply of fruit and vegetables, including bananas, and milk should be subsidised via the school aid schemes. The Committee questions the wisdom of limiting the scheme to liquid milk, and feels that it should continue to include a broader selection of dairy products, with thought given to nutritional and pedagogical considerations. The EESC firmly hopes that priority will be given to fresh food products sustainably produced in Europe. As far as possible, the products and activities in the schemes should have a seasonal and regional basis or come under the EU labels for protected designation of origin (PDO) and protected geographical indication (PGI).

Brussels, 9 July 2014.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Henri MALOSSE