Rector Kintzios, Ministers, distinguished professors, ladies and gentlemen,
I want to thank you most sincerely for conferring this honorary doctorate on me. It is a great honour for me and my family and.
This great university is the third oldest in Greece, reflecting this nation's ancient and proud agricultural traditions.
Since your foundation in 1920, the Agricultural University of Athens has contributed to the improvement and development of the Greek agri-food sector.
And you must be doing a good job, because Greek products, ranging from olive oil to feta to the finest fruits and vegetables, are known throughout the world.
The European Union, and in particular the Common Agricultural Policy strongly supports your goals. In the 2014-2020 period, Greek farmers will receive almost 15 billion Euro in CAP direct payments, boosting their farm income and remunerating their work in producing numerous public goods.
Greek rural areas will receive almost 5 Billion Euro in rural development funding, supporting farm restructuring and modernisation, processing and marketing, as well as the diversification of the rural economy.
There is hugely impressive innovation and creativity happening throughout the Greek agri-food sector. We see the emergence of new and dynamic operators producing better quality products, which are more environmentally-friendly, more innovative and with a strong export orientation.
As Agriculture Commissioner, I want the CAP to help you build on this strong foundation.
For the next life cycle of the policy, spanning the years 2021 to 2027, I want the CAP to remain strong, well-funded, simpler and more modern.
Our proposals for the future CAP include important and specific requirements to increase environmental and climate ambition.
We will do more to help young people who wish to take up farming, because – as this university understand better than anyone - young farmers are the catalyst for change and modernisation and, in an increasingly global and more competitive environment, they hold the key to improving our competitive edge.
We propose to introduce a new delivery model, which not only redesigns the tools to achieve better results; it ensures that key decisions are taken at national or regional level, rather than in Brussels.
We want to give greater subsidiarity to Member States and regions because we believe that key decision-makers should be closer to those on whom their decisions will impact most directly. The "one size fits all" model is outdated – what works in Greece might not work in Northern Sweden.
Our new delivery model will allow important institutions such as this one to have a central role in designing policy interventions and schemes best suited to the reality of Greek farming and rural areas.
In so doing, you can build on your strengths and identify areas for improvement. For example, by providing a new Farm Advisory System you can disseminate knowledge and innovation directly to farmers.
I believe that this new model can make a big difference in modernising our European agri-food sector.
We also want to make a huge leap forward in the agri-food research and innovation space. We propose to double the budget for Research and Innovation in Food and Natural Resources, under the Horizon Europe programme for the period 2021 to 2027.
This budget will be dedicated to the support of specific research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and the bioeconomy. I encourage this university to keep a close eye out for new opportunities.
Internationally, we will continue to find new exciting markets for Greek agri-food exports.
As I mentioned earlier, Greek products are world-class, with a long-standing commitment to quality. This is precisely what gives you a competitive advantage, and where further potential lies.
New food consumption trends should favour Mediterranean agricultural products, which are often delivered by small-sized structures focused on quality rather than quantity.
Your world-renowned origin products are particularly well placed to become even greater global success stories. Conscientious consumers throughout the world recognise the quality and value of our European food traditions and the fact that they form such an integral part of our identities.
In Greece you have over 20 different cheeses, 27 olive oils, and 23 vegetable and pulse varieties with protected status. These are high-quality European GIs with a story to tell: a story about where they come from, which skills are vital for their production and why they enjoy such a reputation.
In terms of sales, products covered by geographical indications represent around 6 % of EU food and drink production while the share in EU food and drinks exports is 15 %.
This can only be an incentive to go further on this path, because consumers are asking for more quality and more information.
We need new alliances - involving the food chain from farm to fork, and involving urban and rural populations - if we are to build on our strengths.
The competitiveness of Greek food is strongly supported by the EU's ambitious trade agenda.
We are forging deals all around the world to provide new market opportunities for our exporting producers.
The annual value of EU agri-food exports in 2017 reached a new record level of €137.9 billion, while imports accounted for €117.4 billion. The trade balance in agri-food has now been positive for the 8th year in a row with a surplus of more than €20 billion in 2017.
The freedom to respond to consumer demands and tastes - within a legal framework that guarantees key standards - has helped make sustainably produced, safe, high-quality and innovative food the EU's calling card worldwide. I like to say that good food means good business.
We are signing trade partnerships with key players around the world. And let me repeat the fact that EU standards will be upheld at every step of this journey.
If we take as an example the agreement with Japan, which was signed in July in Tokyo: this is one of the most successful agreements ever achieved in agriculture for the EU.
We are also promoting our products harder than ever. The Commission took strong action by more than tripling the Agri-food Promotion Budget from €60m to €200m over the next four years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you to study our plans in greater detail, and I hope you will agree that we have designed a modern, progressive policy platform suitable for the needs of Greece and Europe in the 2020s.
Let me conclude by once again thanking you for this great honour. The future of Greek farming is bright, and I hope that my work as Commissioner will play a part in making it even brighter. Thank you.