Thank you for your introduction Pekka. I want to offer my warm congratulations to Copa-Cogeca on the publication of this excellent book.
I believe we should welcome any and every occasion to talk about European food, where it comes from, and how it is produced.
Food is at the centre of our European identity. Every EU Member State and every EU Region has one or more food or drink products, or recipes, associated with it. This helps to generate a hugely important consumer interest in food, and it also instils a sense of local pride.
I firmly believe that smart and sustainable food production also makes good economic sense, because good food means good business. Our food is at the root of a vibrant European agri-food sector, which supports upwards of 44 million jobs in the EU – many of them in our rural areas, where these jobs are urgently needed.
And the evidence shows that we can do even more. It is sufficient to look at the performance of agricultural exports to realise the huge potential for further growth and job creation.
Since 2011, our agri-food exports have grown by 29%, outpacing all other sectors.
We are now exporting €131bn of produce - with a surplus of €18.8 billion.
This is not just a figure - it is a huge amount of wealth being transferred to rural areas across Europe, in reward for the production of high quality, sustainable food and drink products.
In this book there are wonderful recipes using the finest Belgian beef; Haloumi from Cyprus; Finnish potatoes; and Hungarian Goulash, to name just a few. And each recipe has a compelling story behind it.
I think we can all agree that this is positive and pleasing. But we have to remember that there's a very important bigger picture.
We enjoy the highest food quality and safety standards in the world here in Europe. Our consumers benefit from a huge variety of excellent and affordable food. I make this point repeatedly when I am on trade missions abroad, but I also think we need to emphasise the point at home.
Our rock solid food security and our high quality and safety standards are all too easy to take for granted. I sometimes have the impression that many citizens – and indeed many policymakers – blindly assume that the neatly packaged products they purchase in their local supermarkets will always be there.
Of course, the reality is that a hugely complex and yet hugely well-functioning set of policies and value chains bring those products to the supermarkets. And at the centre of those policies, at the heart of those value chains, is the farmer.
The former US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has an excellent way of emphasising the farmer's centrality. He likes to say that "I have delegated the job of feeding my family to our farmers," and I think that message emerges clearly from this outstanding recipe book.
Of course we must celebrate the stories and traditions behind our food products; of course we should take pride in our local and regional specialities; but let's never lose sight of the men and women that grew these products in the first place!
Here in Europe, our farmers' work is governed by the Common Agricultural Policy, which has been in place for over 60 years. The CAP recognises the importance of our farmers and rural communities, and crucially, it recognises that farmers can only guarantee food security for our people if they can earn a fair income from their work.
The policy also enshrines in law the importance of the European family farm model. This means that in every EU Member State, food security and the preservation of our rural environment is implemented by family-owned holdings of various sizes.
Our citizens understand these facts, and they value them. Eurobarometer polls consistently show that Europeans believe farmers and rural areas are important for our future.
But what is unfortunately perhaps less well understood is that this work costs money. Maintaining the highest food standards in the world requires our farmers to go through inspections, quality controls, and registration procedures. They also require advisory services, access to innovative products and technologies, and help in bringing their products to market.
Without a strong and well-funded CAP, these qualities can no longer be guaranteed. And in 2017, we expect our farmers to do even more. We expect them to grow even more food while doing less damage to the environment. We expect them to help Europe lead from the front in meeting our ambitious climate and sustainability targets. And we expect them to generate jobs and growth in our rural areas, particularly for young people.
That is why, in my view, books such as this one are so important. We must use every opportunity to talk about food and where it comes from until this message is clearly understood.
In this book, every recipe is accompanied by "the story behind the dish" and the farmer is given pride of place in the story. And that is as it should be!
I hope this book is a great success, and I hope it is read by many consumers throughout Europe. It is arriving at a time when we need as much public and political support as possible for our farmers and agriculture policies.
As you know, 2017 is a year of real importance for the CAP. The public consultation on the future of the policy ended last month, and the Commission was delighted to have received such a large number and variety of submissions for this important qualitative exercise.
Allow me to thank Copa-Cogeca, and of course any of your individual members who took the time to respond, for your thoughtful and detailed submissions.
The Commission is in the process of analysing the findings in preparation for a high-level conference on Friday the 7th of July.
This will be a welcome opportunity to discuss the findings with key stakeholders such as yourselves.
Our aim is to build the findings into a Communication on the modernisation and simplification of the CAP, which we hope to publish by the end of 2017.
I passionately believe that if we want to keep a strong, purposeful and adequately funded CAP, we need to do two things:
First of all we need to make the policy work even harder - in collaboration with other EU policies and priorities – to provide public goods for the citizens of Europe.
And second, we need to do a better job of informing our citizens about the work farmers and rural development policies do for the good of all European society. Your book is part of that process, and I am delighted you are publishing it here today.
But let us be under no illusions. We face a real battle to maintain CAP funding at its current level.
Just yesterday, the Commission published a reflection paper on the future of EU finances, in the context of Brexit and other new challenges.
It highlights the pressure the CAP budget might come under from some quarters. Without the net contribution of approximately €12 billion from the UK it won't be possible to maintain existing spending levels in all policy areas, including agriculture.
However, that issue can be resolved if Member States decide to collectively cover the shortfall, or develop new financial resources, as outlined in the Monti Report published in January.
This decision is now in the hands of the Member States and the European Council. It is likely that they will make a final decision at the European Council in December as to which direction they wish to go. The European Parliament have to sign off on any new budgetary arrangement.
I urge everyone in this room to continue making the case for a strong and well-funded CAP.
I count on your support to make this point understood at all levels of politics, and all levels of society. And I am sure this book will play its part. Thank you.