With co-decision on agricultural issues likely to come into force from next year, the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee has assumed a new importance and there was plenty of competition for places. However, one unasnwered question is whether the Budget Committee will have a stronger influence on plenary voting patterns than the Ag committee.
Many of the leading lights from the old committee have gone. Former chair UK Conservative Neil Parish is standing for the UK Parliament and may have a role in Dave Cameron's government at a junior level. I am grateful to Parish for getting me a glass of champange after German Green landowner Freidrich-Wilhelm Graefe zu Baringdorf had attacked me when I appeared before the committee as 'not a real scientist.' (It then all kicked off with a German CDU member heckiling the Green Junker).
The new committee chair is Paulo De Castro, the second Italian to chair the committee and just the second Social Democrat. The fact that he is chair owes much to the priority which the European People's Party gave to chairing other committees under the D'Hondt points system for allocating committee chairs.
De Castro is well qualified for the job, having been a Professor of Agricultural Economics at the University of Bolonga and Italy's farm minister from October 1998 to April 2000. He also served as a special adviser on agricultural issues to Commission President Romano Prodi from June to December 2000.
Agra Focus commented that De Castro 'is arguably as well-qualified as anyone in Europe to head one of the EU Institutions going into the debate on the post-2013 Common Agricultural Policy.' It remains to be seen whether the 1st reading vote on the reform proposals occurs while he is chair, or after the halfway point in the mandate (early 2012) by which time there could be a different chair.
De Castro used encouraging terminology in a short interview with Agra Focus. There have been concerns that co-decision (if the Irish get the vote right at the second time of asking) could slow down and dilute reform because of farm interests on the EP Committee. However, De Castro emphasised the importance of goals of concern to all EU citizens such as public goods, food safety and animal welfare.