Many charges are levelled at EU farming, but one that doesn’t stick is gender balance.
Maybe those who believe that farming damages the environment, or who are unhappy with food quality, or food prices, suspect that farming in Europe is run by a bunch of grumpy old men.
However, it is not.
In recent years, many of the ministers for agriculture in member states have been women. And women are in line to lead EU agriculture from January 2020 to January 2022, as the agriculture ministers of their countries during four successive EU presidencies.
At the recent informal video-conference of Ministers responsible for Agriculture on June 29, no fewer than eight of the 27 member states were represented by women.
And when discussion turned to fisheries, two more women ministers were involved.
The video-conference was hosted by Croatia’s Agriculture Minister Marija Vuckovic, who had the pleasure of handing over to another woman minister, as Germany took over the six-month EU presidency from Croatia.
For a second six-month EU presidency, a woman minister will plan and chair meetings in the EU Council of agriculture ministers, and represent the council in relations with other EU institutions
Germany’s Federal Minister for Food and Agriculture, Julia Klöckner, is the new chair, and the council includes women agriculture ministers from Austria, Bulgaria, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Slovenia.
Female marine ministers from Belgium and Poland will be involved.
And when Germany’s EU presidency ends at the New Year, Maria do Céu Albuquerque, if she is still in office as Portugal’s Minister for Agriculture, will take over the hot seat.
After her will come Slovenia’s EU presidency, their current agriculture minister is Darja Majkovic.
Whether the female influence, chairing up to 24 months of the EU presidency, will be seen in outcomes for EU agriculture and fisheries remains to be seen.
But incoming chair Julia Klöckner is likely to make an impression.
She will certainly feel at home during the traditional informal Ministers’ meeting at the end of August in Koblenz, with a field trip on the topics of wine and digitisation.
She was the German Wine Queen in the mid-1990s, travelling to Italy, China, Oman and the US, and meeting dignitaries such as Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and Michael Gorbachev.
A member of the Bundestag before the age of 30, the 46-year-old is one of the deputy chairpersons of the Christian Democratic Union, Angela Merkel’s ruling party.
In 2016, she lost an election for Minister-President of Rhineland-Palatinate, which could have brought her nearer to contention as a successor to Chancellor Merkel.
More conservative than Merkel in some ways, she has opposed Merkel’s open-door asylum policy, and has called for a German ban of the burqa, the full-body garment used by some Muslim women, and for laws to incentivise migrants to integrate.
However, she is somewhat of an exception amid the seriousness and sobriety of German politics, glamorous and always ready to smile for the cameras.
She has an ambitious $886 million plan to reforest Germany, after climate change affected nearly 2% of the country’s forests.
Kloeckner grew up on a farm which had horses, cows and pigs; farmers will appreciate her links to and knowledge of the land.
She says mastering Covid-19 and mitigating its impact will be her priority for the six months of the German EU presidency.
The presidency will also focus on digitalisation in agriculture, and on rural development.
The presidency can steer the direction of policy-making, but has to be impartial to the point of voting with the majority of member states, even if it goes against its own position.
Kloeckner has stressed the importance of functioning supply chains, a common market approach, and free movement of workers in the EU during the pandemic.
She wants to move animal welfare higher on the European agenda, and to introduce an EU animal welfare label for informed purchasing decisions by consumers in favour of higher animal welfare standard products.
Kloeckner says environment and climate protection, animal welfare, food security, and economic feasibility must be linked.
“Farmers must not be crushed between environmental protection rules and economic feasibility.”
She has pushed for speedy approval of the EU agriculture budget, followed by a CAP reform with more environment and climate protection.