Phil Hogan, the Irish nominee for membership of the European Commission and the president-elect Jean-Claude Juncker’s preferred candidate for appointment as Agriculture Commissioner, skilfully navigated his way through the hearing into his suitability by the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee and received the support of 80% of the members. So, assuming Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposed team of Commissioners is approved by the European Parliament, as seems likely after the replacement of the Slovenian nominee, a defeated elected head of state who unsurprisingly did not have the support of the victorious opposition, Mr Hogan will take office for a 5-year term.
Mr Hogan enthused the Committee with a plan to the deal with the complexity of his predecessor Dacian Ciolos’ Common Agricultural Policy reforms, especially the greening element, and said that he intended to review the regime after a year to establish "whether it is designed in a way which is being properly applied in practice", and to see how errors in EU spending could be reduced. His proposed review will not take the place of the mid-term review of the new regime already agreed for 2017, so we have the prospect of more or less constant review.
Mr Hogan, as might be expected of a Commissioner from a stock farming country, also said that the mid-term review would include a look at the controversial sheep Electronic Identification rules and that he was committed to protect food production standards in any trade deals, such as that proposed between the EU and the USA.
One subject which Mr Hogan will have to deal with immediately is the consequences of the Russian ban on food and drink imports from the EU. In the late summer the Commission put in place schemes to pay for private storage of dairy products and to help fruit and vegetable growers who had lost their markets, but both these have been hijacked by opportunistic member states and have had to be closed. 83% of the storage aid was snaffled by Italy which saw it as a golden opportunity to mature a lot of Parmesan cheese, and Poland asked for €145m for fruit and vegetable growers, which was more than its total exports to Russia in a year. The need for help has not gone away, and so Mr Hogan will have to come up with something more sophisticated.
Mr Hogan promised the Agriculture Committee that he would visit each member state within a year. He will know of UKIP’s plans for US style counter-cyclical payments or a Canadian crop price insurance scheme in addition to a Single Farm Payment, but will find that there is a solid majority of farmers who wish to see the UK remain an EU member. There was little rural support for ‘Yes’ in the Scottish independence referendum – hardly surprising in the view of the doubts about Scotland becoming an EU member in its own right. Farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will be equally wary of plans to leave the EU.