Dear Friends,

At the outset my sincerest apologies for arriving later than planned which was unfortunately beyond my control as I had to attend events with President Juncker.

Particular thanks to my colleagues Mr Siekierski and Minister Porodzanov from Bulgaria. I am very grateful that both gentlemen were here with you earlier as they are both passionate supporters of Agriculture Research and Innovation and were actively engaged in our efforts to increase financial support.

You are all aware that earlier today at the College of Commissioners meeting we finalised the next multi annual financial framework.  As you know these negotiations which Commissioner Moedas and I have been involved in will determine the level of funding available for the next framework programme, Horizon Europe. 

I am delighted to inform you that a specific amount of E10 billion is foreseen under Horizon Europe to support research and innovation in food, agriculture, rural development and bio-economy.

It goes without saying that I am delighted with this outcome. This level of financial support could not have been secured without the help and support of my Commission colleagues, and I would like to give particular thanks to Carlos Moedas, to Budget Commissioner Gunther Oettinger and to President Juncker. 

We are all agreed that continued investment in support of science, research and innovation will contribute to the development of a more productive and sustainable EU agriculture and food sector.

And we are not starting from scratch – we have already come a long way. Two years ago, in January 2016, we assembled in this same place to “design the path towards future agricultural research and innovation”.

Based on your input and guidance, we published our strategy in July 2016, to guide our work across the two policies which serve agricultural research and innovation: the Common Agricultural Policy and Horizon 2020.

Today is an ideal moment to gather again, take stock, and build a few more milestones along the path.

Let me briefly recall how far we have already travelled:

  • Since 2014, EU agriculture policy has taken on a leading role in programming and implementing agricultural R&I.
  • In this programming period, we have introduced major novelties both under the CAP, via rural development policy and EIP-AGRI, and under Horizon 2020, under the heading "Societal challenge 2".
  • The European Innovation Partnership on agricultural productivity and sustainability (or as well call it, "EIP-AGRI") is continuing to upscale every day.
  • And we are kick-starting the dialogue on the next cycle of EU policies, in tandem with the European Commission adopting its proposal for a new Multi-annual financial framework. Legislative proposals on sectorial policies will be progressively adopted from the end of May to mid-June.

Now is the right time to take stock of what we have achieved under this period and discuss how we want to continue in the future, both in terms of content and in terms of instruments and approaches.

This event is not a stand-alone gig. Three weeks ago we discussed rural innovation in the wider sense at the 11th OECD Rural development conference in Scotland, with the support of the European Commission. And in five weeks the Bulgarian presidency will hold a high-level flagship event on Food 2030, also supported by the Commission, with the active involvement of DG RTD.

I am confident that, with these three major events, we will be on a good track to shaping the future of food, farming and rural research and innovation.

As we look back to review the successes, milestones reached, and lessons learned from the past few years, I will refrain from reminding you of the challenges we are facing. They are well known to you, and previous speakers have already reminded you of them and of the key role agricultural research and innovation has to play in meeting them.

Let me instead focus on what we have already done to meet these many challenges. Firstly, we have developed a new and unique framework which builds on the strengths of our two European policies, the CAP and Horizon 2020, working in close synergy.

Through Horizon 2020, we have already selected around 150 projects of interest to agriculture, forestry and rural development. And 150 more are still to come, with an overall investment of €1.8 billion. These are mostly large and ambitious transnational projects, delivering excellent science-based answers to the challenges we set out in our calls for projects. There are also bottom-up projects such as thematic networks which translate academic science into practical tools for farmers and speed-up innovation.  

You will find the list of the 23 thematic networks already running in your factsheets. Their themes are diverse, ranging from short food supply chains, to new entrants into farming, smart farming technologies, high-nature value farming or solutions against wine diseases.

It is also abundantly clear that the the CAP has proved its mettle in rising to the innovation challenge. EU rural development policy supports the roll out of innovative solutions in a number of areas; through targeted investments, knowledge transfer, advisory services, and cooperation projects to develop new products, processes and technologies.

In this context, the Agricultural European Innovation Partnership has a key role, with plenty of potential for more.

Rural development policy also provides support for start-ups in rural areas and for the development of small enterprises. In the period 2014-2020 we aim to support some 66 000 entrepreneurs. In addition, it is possible to support training and advice for rural entrepreneurs – including outside the farm gate.

Meanwhile, our strong commitment to doing more in the future is captured in the Cork 2.0 Declaration, entitled "A Better Life in Rural Areas".

This declaration was signed in September 2016, when more than 340 rural stakeholders met in Cork, Ireland and developed a joint vision for the future of rural areas and their development. This inclusive drafting process yielded a document with a strong emphasis innovation and knowledge exchange in future policies.

Innovation also features strongly in the European Commission's Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming” which is the policy foundation to address all challenges which confront the EU’s farm sector and rural areas.

In addition, we support knowledge exchange between communities and farmers through dedicated workshops and seminars.

(H2020 - EIP-AGRI)

To stimulate innovation and better knowledge exchange, new tools have already been put on the table for 2014 - 2020.  EIP-AGRI has proven itself to be a major policy and networking initiative helping to speed up research uptake and innovation on the ground.

At European level, Horizon 2020 has doubled its resources for agriculture and food research.

We are investing in bringing research and practice closer together, in particular through the Multi-actor projects and Thematic Networks. As you will hear today, the first feedback we have is very encouraging.

The EIP-AGRI and Multi-actor projects under Horizon 2020 enable farmers to work in cooperation with researchers and other stakeholders, putting ideas into practice in a very concrete way. This makes solutions more responsive to actual challenges and farmers' needs, and accelerates the uptake of innovative projects in the agricultural sector. It also helps to provide ideas and orientation for further agricultural research based on real needs and challenges for the stakeholders concerned.

This applies not only to farming but also to rural communities. We have an on-going project on urban-rural linkages called ROBUST in which 11 local communities, cities or rural areas are directly involved in creating knowledge.

[EIP AGRI Operational Groups]

More than 600 EIP-AGRI operational groups have started under our rural development programmes. These groups hold fantastic potential for creating innovative solutions that will make farming smarter, more efficient and more sustainable.

We expect around 3200 Operational Groups by the end of 2020.  The results of these projects provide lots of new ideas and inspiration for the farming community and rural areas. And through the EIP-AGRI networking activities, these ideas can cross borders and speed up innovation everywhere in Europe.

According to recent independent evaluations, the uptake of the agricultural EIP is “impressive”: featuring in 96 out of a possible 118 Rural Development plans in 26 Member States.

[H2020 – Multi-actor approach]

While operational groups are working at regional and national levels, around 150 European and international projects are working on similar issues but at larger scale, benefiting from the doubling in EU funding for agricultural research and innovation under Horizon 2020.

Promising Thematic Networks include those on short food supply chains (SKIN), or new entrants into farming and new associated business models (NEWBIE).

By 2020, the EU will have invested over 1bn€ in 180 Horizon 2020 multi-actor projects: around 60% of the overall budget for agricultural research calls. This is unprecedented support for farmers, advisors and local communities to step into the driving seat of research and innovation.

(Conclusion)

We have come a long way. But there is no doubt in my mind that we have to step up our efforts on agricultural and rural research and innovation if we want to fully respond to the challenges of both today and tomorrow.

And we have to do this working in synergy with the policy spaces around food and the bio-economy. This is in my view how we will succeed in guaranteeing food and nutrition security while also promoting the sustainable, circular, climate-friendly management of our natural resources - two objectives which are two sides of the same coin.

The Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming” acknowledges the huge potential of technological development and digital transformation in addressing the current and future challenges the farming sector and rural communities are facing.

It highlights the need to boost investments and the uptake of new technologies and digital-based opportunities, such as digital farming and the use of big data or applications and infrastructures which will help to develop smart villages.

And innovation is not only technological. We increasingly hear about the key role that social and organisational innovation can play in triggering new business models or collective action delivering environmental and social benefits.

Emerging sustainable rural value chains in areas such as bio-based industries, bio-energy and the circular economy, as well as ecotourism, offer opportunities for farmers and rural businesses to diversify, hedge risks and provide additional income.

Both technological and social innovations require adequate skills, knowledge sharing facilities and networks.

To this end, the Communication makes it a priority to enhance the Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems (AKIS).

It also emphasizes the crucial role of farm advisors as innovation enablers. A modern CAP should therefore support the strengthening of farm advisory services within the AKIS systems.

It will be able to build on the stream of Horizon 2020 projects that we have launched on farm advice, demonstration farms, skills and education. The projects PLAID and AGRIDEMO for example are building a “FarmDemo Hub” mapping and connecting demonstration farms in Europe. And the NEFERTITI project will then organise networking activities between these farms on various themes.

In the Communication we also outlined the need for a new delivery model that will take into account EU diversity, to better target and simplify the support and to ensure strong performance and results.

This new delivery model will apply to rural development policy and all related innovation support including EIP-AGRI. This is an opportunity to invest in innovation even more under a simpler, more flexible and more efficient system.

We will also seek to improve synergies with other European Strategic and Investment Funds, building on the promising cooperation mechanisms set up under the smart specialisation platform on Agri-Food.

As we look to the future, it clear that the CAP:

  • Will need to build even stronger synergies with Research and Innovation Policy than we have done under this term;
  • And needs to strengthen the role of farm advisory services to ensure the transmission of knowledge to farmers – the people working on and in the ground and even further than that: involve them in research and innovation so they can contribute to the creation of solutions to their problems

Commissioner Moedas and I have been consistent in our view that the synergies we have built between the CAP and Horizon 2020 are a solid basis upon which we can plan together for the future.

We have agreed to jointly foster innovation for sustainability in both Horizon Europe and the Common Agricultural Policy.   

With Horizon Europe we will aim to develop a strategic research and innovation agenda as a joint umbrella for our work in this area for which the agricultural research strategy as well as Food 2030 will be essential cornerstones. All Commission services will work jointly on it and I look forward to seeing a very positive and constructive outcome.

Let me conclude by thanking you all for your contribution here today, and wishing you productive and of course, innovative, discussions. Thank you.