Our time in Brussels focused on two key themes: 1) how the European Union functions as a multi-national governing body and 2) opportunities and challenges for a trade agreement between the EU and the United States. Linking these two themes was the question: How do farmers engage in the policy conversation?
The lobbying and technical staff of the DBV in Brussels provided a briefing of the key policy issues on the DBV agenda, such as the reform of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). The CAP is somewhat similar to the farm bill of the US in setting policy to support agriculture production and rural development. Many farm groups are concerned with a "greening" provision of the new CAP that will require farmers to set aside a percentage of land and meet minimum plant diversity requirements.
We also met with COPA-COGECA, a single organization representing farmers and agri-cooperatives across the EU. Here we discussed how farm organizations coordinate policy priorities within Europe's three-pronged government: the European Commission (which has a role similar to our White House Administration to propose and enforce policy), the European Council of Ministers (similar to our Senate in that it represents the individual countries) and the European Parliament (equivalent to our House of Representatives speaking for the people).
Agriculture specialists of the EU Commission (which is negotiating the US-EU trade agreement) talked with us about the progress and top challenges from the EU perspective. Their concerns include issues with protected food names, such as Parmesan-Reggiano from Italy.
On Tuesday a tour of the EU "Parliamentarium" provided an interactive museum experience about the history and development of the European Union to now 27 member states.
We had an interesting conversation with a staff advisory for the member of Parliament who represented the interests of agriculture to the European Commission while developing the new CAP policy over the last year. It was interesting to hear that the EU has not addressed the question of how their policy is going to impact agriculture on the continent in the future by taking land out of production and making it difficult or impossible for farmers to use the latest technology to improve efficiency.
At the conclusion of our two days in Brussels we met with the Minister-Counselor for Agriculture to get the US perspective on EU agriculture and the ongoing trade negotiations. The two entities differ substantially on how they support--and protect--farmers and commodities.
We enjoyed our time in Brussells and thank our hosts Ludwig Borger, Tiffanie Stephani and trainee Peter. Now back to Germany and the city of Bonn!