Finally, Romania in Copa Cogeca: We pay 1 Euro, we get back 100 – 1.000
– “Why do Romanian farmers receive only 138 Euro / hectare / year? Even Polish farmers get 220”
– “Because Romania was not member of Copa Cogeca when the subventions were negotiated, so we did not include something for your country in our proposal to the European Commission”
The reply of Copa Cogeca official did not allow us to comment. “If you want to obtain something from the negotiations, first of all you have to be on the table”…
It was Thursday, September 24th and we were in Brussels, in the cocktail after Copa Cogeca Praesidia (= kind of general assembly) elected its new President, debated on different issues and also approved Romania’s candidacy to join as member. Together with the President of ProAgro Emil Dumitru, we were the center of attention for everyone*. Our secretary general Florentin Bercu had left so as to catch his flight (we were all together during Praesidia).
Copa Cogeca: Power, influence and representation
In order for European Commission to decide upon… anything, its structure includes the Social Dialogue Groups, where representatives from all sectors and countries (through their representative bodies) come with their proposals, debate and finally agree on decisions, which are later sent to the Commission.
In the agricultural sector there are 13 different Social Dialogue Groups. In total, 773 representatives participate in the debates. Copa and Cogeca sends 200 of them, while the rest 67 (!) organizations send 574.
Copa Cogeca represents some 37 million farmers in Europe and more than 10.000 cooperatives. Its figures are superlative and its voice is the strongest one in Brussels. Its experts are considered among the best in our continent, their positions and reports are points of reference. Its voice is always taken into consideration and its influence is applied by its experienced executives.
This is why everyone who knows what is going on in Brussels had always a question: “But how come Romania is not member of Copa Cogeca? You are a country with strong agricultural sector, how can you promote your interests without being part of the most powerful institution? How can you receive if you are not there to ask for?”
We pay 1, we get back 100 – 1.000
– “Emil, if you ask me about Biomass and Biogas, I can tell you 100 reasons why they are vital for Romania’s future. Ok, Copa Cogeca is a very important organization. But why is it vital for us to be there?”
I addressed this question to Emil at 06.55. He finished his reply to me around 10.00, when we arrived in Brussels. While the rest of the plane was sleeping, I was learning about Copa Cogeca and Romania. He patiently replied to my endless questions…
– “We will have to pay hundreds of thousands of Euro as membership fees…”
– “But we will get back tens or hundreds of millions”
– “When there is a negotiation about money in EU level, there are three main poles:
- European Commission (including the voice of people)
- The Governments and their negotiations
- The European Parliament
Usually the proposal comes on the table by European Commission, after it has consulted with the different social dialogue groups and heard the experts’ voice. Then the ministers will decide and in the Parliament will modify and vote. European Commission takes into consideration what every legitimate voice says, but Copa Cogeca’s voice is by far the strongest and most reputable one. So when Copa Cogeca comes with a proposal, you can see that this proposal is part of the European Commission’s one, then it is submitted to the ministers and the European Parliament etc…”
– “So we have to be in Copa Cogeca so as to promote our interests in this proposal…”
– “Yes, otherwise we leave the Romanian minister or the Romanian members of the European Parliament fighting without many weapons. They will do their best, but many times they heard that “Copa Cogeca does not mention this at all”. We lost billions due to this reason”
– “So if we join, how much money Romania can earn?”
– “Indirectly, as Romania’s interests will be served even better, our country can get tens or hundreds of millions of Euro per year, especially after we are in Copa Cogeca for some time, to work efficiently”.
– “So we need to be full members, with the maximum number of votes possible…”
– “… yes. Each country, for each negotiation, asks the maximum it can get. Then we negotiate until the outcome to be the final position of Copa Cogeca. Countries like Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain and Poland have 12 votes and their voice is very strong. Also, when someone wants their support for his particular national issue, they will ask back support for their own national issues. If Romania has full rights and 12 votes, we will defend the country’s interests in a very effective way”.
– “Do we have enough experts to send for all their commissions and groups of social dialogue?”
– “We do, but we will not send just the ProAgro experts. Once we are in, we are “National Team”. We will invite all other representative institutions to send us experts. Like this we will promote Romania’s interests much better, all associations will know what is going on and the ministry will have inside information and arguments for every problem. This is what all other countries are doing”.
– “It would also be great if we can bring Copa Cogeca’s top experts in Romania, to explain to us directly the present and the future of a sector. I understand that they have some of the best experts in Europe”.
– “Exactly. Imagine how important it is if we bring the expert for pork meat, for example. He will talk to the ministry’s people, all the authorities and associations etc, plus private companies and farm owners that want to know. He will be here, reply to all questions and inform us, without barriers. We can plan our future and our strategy, as country and as companies, knowing what will happen in Europe. Like this, all Romanians win”.
– “So by joining Copa Cogeca, hundreds of thousands of farmers, cooperatives and companies will get information and money, 100 – 1.000 more than we pay as contribution”.
– “Yes and it is about R O M A N I A, not ProAgro”
– “Got it, let’s do it”.
So, it was clear that there was a serious reason for Romania to be in Copa Cogeca. But things were complicated… when the board of ProAgro mandated me to join our President to Brussels so as to resolve the problem with Copa Cogeca, I was happy and honored to do so. While preparing for our meeting, I found out that:
- ProAgro was member of Copa Cogeca in the past as well. We paid only the linguistic services and not the membership fees and “succeeded” to raise a 600.000 Euro debt in less than 2 years
- After this “accomplishment”, we were suspended (others say that we were out).
- We could not join Copa Cogeca again, unless we would pay the 600.000 Euro debt in advance. Even like this, it was not sure, the rest of the members should vote. So far when a federation was in such a situation, it was not accepted back.
- Romania’s seats on groups and all our rights have been distributed to the rest of the members
- Some media in Bucharest had already decided that we did not have a chance to join Copa Cogeca again
At lunch time, when we sat down together with Emil and Pekka Pesonen, Copa Cogeca’s Secretary General and one of the most influential and experienced European executives, his time was limited. His smile was more like a warning and his smart eyes behind his glasses were trying to decide whether there was something to discuss or not.
– “Welcome, gentlemen. Am I going to hear the same excuses like in the past?”
– “Today you will hear arguments and solutions, sir”.
Romania, not ProAgro
Well, this time things were different. Forget about “ProAgro trying to be member of Copa Cogeca, without having the funds so as to pay the 550.000+ fees”. Now it was about Romania…
- The Romanian Parliament had voted unanimously for a new law that allows the Ministry of Agriculture to pay Romanian farmers’ participation in European representative institutions. (Usually we complain about our politicians, but in this case they acted prudently, as they pay only when a European institution is member of the European Commission’s Social Dialogue)
- Condition precedent is for a Romanian institution to be already member of the European one
- For 2015 there is an amount for the 4th quarter of the year, while our information is that the money for 2016 is secured.
With the Parliament’s vote and the Government’s support, we had a card to play…
We used more “weapons”: Romania’s advantages and plenty of other smaller or bigger facts that let us build our position, summed in a phrase: “Now Romania is ready”.
Romania’s speech in Copa Cogeca Praesidia
After a “tensed” discussion with Pekka Pesonen, we found the optimal solution for Romania to join Copa Cogeca immediately, but pay the money once it will be released by the Ministry of Agriculture. We settled the problems of the past and secured our position as full member with all rights. Actually Romania will have the same number of votes like Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain and Poland!
“Still your country has to be presented during our Praesidia. Many questions will be raised due to your past, while I cannot guarantee to you that our members will vote for Romania to join us”. He could not be clearer than that…
We arrived to Copa Cogeca’s building and while heading to the Praesidia’s venue, we were discussing and preparing our speech. Someone who understood that we are from Romania came to us, he knew the story of the past…
– “You are from Romania… you will speak today, as I understand, yes?”
– “I suggest to you the following strategy. You should tell them that it was not your fault that you did not pay, you simply did not have the money, you did not do it on purpose, we all know Romania is poor, there should be an exception…”
– “Romania is rich, sir. Thank you for your advice”
– “I prefer to die right now, than saying these things. Thank you”
The room was full with 140 Presidents and representatives of national institutions from all around Europe, representing hundreds of billions of Euro… Romania’s speech in Praesidia of Copa Cogeca was a successful one, if we take into consideration that no question was asked and that we were voted back in.
(Working together with Emil and Florentin, I had the honor to present the statement we prepared, on behalf of ProAgro and Romania. This is definitely one of the most important moments of my life).
Then photos followed and we all headed to the cocktail so as to celebrate the election of a new President of Copa Cogeca (we already discussed with him about Romania).
– “Romaaaaaania, yes…. well… whom do I know from Romania? Mr Botanoiu… is he still secretary of the State?”
– “Yes, he is and a very good one” Emil commented…
– “I know, he carries good fame here in Brussels…”
– “You in Romania have also someone… Bac…”
– “Mr Baciu, the President of Lapar”
– “Yes, yes. I met him some time ago. How would you describe him?”
– “I have a very good opinion, we always have something to learn by someone with his experience” I replied, imagining Laurentiu Baciu smiling to me.
– “Do you know Stefan Nicolae?”
– “Yes, obviously”
– “What are your relations with him?”
– “Excellent, in the context of collaboration between federations and syndicates. Stefan is a correct person who understood that a representative organization has to create income for the farmer and it is a common interest for all of us to develop the Romanian agricultural sector, in favor of all parties included. Stefan himself has underlined this issue in a meeting in the Ministry of Agriculture, he stressed that it is important for us to be present in the European civil dialogue”, Emil explained.
– “You have only good words to say for your people, are they so good?” the Spanish director of Copa Cogeca asked in the end of the night.
– “Of course they are, we told you, we will surprise you with the quality of our experts”
– “Good for ProAgro…”
– “Good for Romania, sir”
– “Good for Romania, correct!” he smiled, raised his glass and toasted: “For Romania!”
PS. Now we are waiting by the Romanian Government to finalize the process and allow us to apply for the support that will allow us pay to Copa Cogeca and join this organization. It will be a rare time for a country investing an amount and receiving back 100 – 1.000 times more money for its citizens. Isn’t it a good deal for Romania?
* ARBIO, the Romanian Association of Biomass and Biogas, whom I am honored to serve as President, is member of ProAgro Federation. ARBIO representative is also vice President of ProAgro, this was how I was in Brussels representing it.
Neither do I know all the people of the agricultural sector, nor do I have friends or enemies. I simply describe my experience in my blog, as I lived it.