The extraordinary situation being caused by the coronavirus pandemic requires extraordinary working methods and extraordinary measures. Accordingly, on 25 March the ministers responsible for agriculture and fisheries of the European Union’s 27 member states held a meeting via video conference for the first time since the founding of the EU to discuss the handling of the negative effects being cause by the pandemic.

In his speech, State Secretary for Agriculture and Rural Development Zsolt Feldman said it is vitally important to assure the continued supply of food and the financial stability of agricultural producers. The State Secretary highlighted the fact that despite the extraordinary situation, European farmers are still capable of assuring the food supply of EU citizens, but for this to remain the case requires them to be provided with immediate, EU-level assistance. Mr. Feldman said that in his opinion the regulations on the awarding of existing subsidies must be eased, in addition to which farmers also require extraordinary funding.
During the video conference, the State Secretary proposed, in agreement with several ministers, that farmers should be able to receive a higher than usual level of advance payments on their area-based funding prior to 16 October. This is extremely important from the perspective of liquidity. In addition, the conditions for the paying out of subsidies must also be adapted to the extraordinary situation, meaning monitoring regulations must become less strict. In the current situation, we cannot expect either farmers or the agricultural administration to have monitoring conducted according to the usual procedures.
In the mid and long term, it is extremely important that investments do not cease to occur. To this end, according to the State Secretary it would be an important piece of assistance if the EU were to temporarily disregard the fulfilment of previously undertaken obligations. Farmers cannot suffer a disadvantage because they are unable to fulfil the undertaken number of employees through no fault of their own as a result of the extraordinary situation. To this end, it is vital to amend the rural development program via an accelerated procedure, which is something that both the head of the Hungarian delegation and several other member states called for at the meeting.
In addition to the amendment of current funding regulations, it may also be necessary for fresh funding to be injected into the sector, and accordingly Zsolt Feldman also called for the introduction of extraordinary market support measures paid for out of EU budget reserves. At the meeting, the State Secretary proposed that the amendment of EU funding regulations be considered so that farmers can have better access to resources via an increase in their de minimis funding.
With relation to assisting the aquaculture sector, which is also struggling with serious problems, the State Secretary indicated that Hungary believes it is necessary to make the functioning of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund more flexible, to increase de minimis funding for the fisheries sector, and to reintroduce funding for fish processors with relation to the storage of finished products.
At the end of the meeting, EU Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski promised that the member state proposals would be assessed, and extraordinary measures introduced if necessary.

(Ministry of Agriculture/MTI)