This post should be read in conjunction with the related preceding posts, which you can find below.
Following on from the last update, the European Council, in COREPER, decided to continue its discussion of the regulation, but with a request to the Commission to produce a revised proposal to reflect Member States’ discussion in the Council Working Party and amendments tabled by European Parliament. At its next meeting on 12 May, the Council Working Party will discuss the changes it expects to see in revised proposals. No timescale has been set for the preparation of the new draft by the Commission – with elections imminent (22 May), I can’t imagine that it will be quick. The worry must be that we will end up with a document that is as bad as the original draft or even worse.
DEFRA is currently formulating its discussion/negotiating position in consultation with stakeholders and the devolved administrations. A discussion document has been circulated to the stakeholder group of which we are part and we are currently formulating our comments on it. One of the difficulties for DEFRA is it is not yet clear how other Member States will respond or what direction the Commission might take in preparing the new draft. There has been talk of breaking the regulation down into smaller sector-specific regulations, although one of the problems with this is that so many products and markets cross the boundaries (for example, pot grown herbs sold in supermarkets – food or not? Vegetative or seed raised? Is it PRM or is it an “entire plant”? Should a 11cm sage plant sold here be treated differently to an identical plant sold to another grower to produce a 2 litre finished product?).
Understanding the complexity and diversity within the horticulture industry is a challenge. In the stakeholder group, we’ve got vegetable, fruit, pot plant, garden plant, forestry, retail, wholesale and amenity interests. Several times, the issue of products which awkwardly cross over the boundaries has been thorwn up. Added to this is the need to convince non-experts (MEPs, Commissioners, Ministers) of the needs of the industry and to facilitate their understanding, so we are increasingly using simple examples that are easier to grasp – for example, a young strawberry plant grown in a pot which might end up being sold to a consumer or to a grower and has different outcomes based upon who it is being sold to and in what context. Behind this sort of product lays a production chain that also needs to be understood and the stakeholder group is trying to help DEFRA with this.
I do think that they (DEFRA) are right that the regulation should be based more on outcomes – that the regulation should aim to protect varietal identity and PRM quality to the customer only where that is entirely necessary to protect the customer (whether the “customer” is the end consumer or somebody in the production chain) and with the lightest touch regulation that is possible. Whether enough of the other Member States agree with that line remains to be seen.