Letter to EU agriculture ministers from Commissioner Wojciechowski on rural development and the COVID-19 outbreak
I am writing to you as a follow-up to my first letter, sent to you on 19 March, and our high-level videoconference. We are facing an unparalleled situation due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The European Commission is working on all fronts, in cooperation with Member States, to respond to key challenges and ensure that everybody remains safe.
Our farmers and all actors of the food supply chain are working hard to ensure that safe and high quality food continues to be available throughout this crisis. I have listened to your concerns and announced already flexibilities and simplifications that will guarantee the continuation of support to farmers and other beneficiaries of the common agricultural policy (CAP) under current restrictions and social distancing measures adopted by Member States. The final legal steps are currently being taken to adopt these measures as quickly as possible.
At this point, I would like to encourage you to make the fullest possible use of all flexibility and opportunities available under the rural development framework of the CAP. While some Member States unfortunately have little or no budgetary margin left, I welcome that those who do have it, are already looking pro-actively into how to use money still available under their rural development programmes to finance relevant actions to face the crisis and to recover from it. Based on information available to the Commission, I note that at this moment some €6 billion can still be committed by the Member States under their rural development programmes; this amount increases to around €17 billion when considering the amounts reserved for on-going calls for applications not yet finalised.
Several rural development measures can be used in this context, and I would like to highlight to you some of these possibilities. If you have not programmed these measures yet and wish to do so, or if you want to extend their scope or reallocate funds between measures, my services stand ready to assist you so that implementation can start as soon as possible.
Various types of cooperation can be supported. This can apply to the food supply chain, with farmers selling directly to consumers, or setting up home delivery services of essential products such as food or medicine to isolated rural inhabitants. Support can also be mobilised to cooperate in view of improving services related to health care.
Furthermore, rural development funds can support investments at farm level, for processing, marketing or packaging of food, or for the restoration of agricultural production potential. This also applies to investments in small local infrastructures and services such as the acquisition of equipment, the adaptation of health centres or the set-up of mobile health facilities in rural areas.
Advisory services can guide farmers to improve resilience of their holdings. Farm relief services can help farmers in their daily work when needed due to reasons such as sickness, absences, or unexpected overwork.
Where risk management tools are already in place, they could immediately be used to compensate farmers for significant and sudden income losses as a consequence of the crisis.
Finally, financial instruments can continue to offer financial assistance to farmers. In addition, under the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus, the Commission has extended the scope of support to rural small and medium-sized businesses by proposing loans or guarantees to cover operational costs through financial instruments. This could help increase farmers’ cash flow for instance.
The European network for rural development (ENRD) has published a collection of COVID-19 response project examples.
Together with my services, we are committed to supporting you to make use of all measures available as quickly and as efficiently as possible. We will ensure a swift approval of programme amendments proposed in response to the crisis and would like to encourage you to liaise pro-actively with my services on this.
You can count on my support.
EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development
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