Twice a year, the General Assembly of the ELO meets in the country next in line to take up the Presidency of the Council of the European Union. This time, it was Austria’s turn and the ELO delegation was warmly welcomed by our local members, Land&Forst Betriebe Österreich.

The ongoing reform of Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy dominated the discussion, especially as the full proposals had just been released by the European Commission. ELO Secretary General Thierry de l’ESCAILLE expressed concern over whether or not the high ambitions in the proposal could be met in practice, especially as many European ministries may not have the administrative capacities to design and implement the plans. ELO members agreed and added that the proposals to limit CAP payments per farm, especially if more money is allocated to environmental performance, would be counter to the wishes of society and would limit payments for public goods.

During its meeting with Johannes FANKHAUSER of the Austrian Ministry for Sustainability and Tourism, the members had a chance to share their concerns, highlighting that the new national plans should not be used as a first step to a renationalised agriculture that goes against the Single Market and against the spirit of the European project.

Climate change also played a prominent role during the General Assembly, with all ELO members reporting both (severe) droughts and changing weather patterns in their countries. As a consequence, many are facing higher water prices or further restrictions on its use. Mr. FANKHAUSER discussed the Austrian priorities for the presidency and noted that they are not happy with the cuts in the CAP budget as “More for less does not work”. After his presentation,   Dr. Franz SINABELL of the Austrian Institute of Economic Research gave an overview of Austrian agriculture and forestry and demonstrated the drastic projected consequences of a changing climate for agriculture and forestry.

With forestry forming an important part of Austria’s rural economy, the ELO arranged two visits to the countryside to explore the potential and changing nature of the industry. During the first trip to the Esterhazy estate of Lackenbach (and member of the Wildlife Estates), the forest management team demonstrated how their estate successfully combines forestry, tourism and Natura 2000, with the management of large carnivores such as wolves being of particular interest to the members.

In order to increase the ties between all land private land managers, ELO and the Confederation of European Forest Owners (CEPF) co-hosted a gala dinner to celebrate the importance of well-managed land. This was emphasized during the second visit which showcased innovative agriculture and forestry management practices on the Montecuccoli Estate, where, in order to diversify his business, ELO and CEPF board member Felix MONTECUCCOLI, has recently entered the Christmas tree market as well as setting aside a forest Waldruhe plot where people can bury the urns of their loved ones to provide them with a tranquil resting and remembrance place. ELO and CEPF look forward to working together more closely and creating more opportunities to meet.

The next General Assembly will take place in Bucharest (Romania) from 26 to 28 November 2018.

The ELO would like to thank Felix MONTECUCCOLI, President of Land&Forst Betriebe Österreich, and his team, as well as the CEPF team, for their hard work in putting this event together.