Ladies and Gentlemen, many thanks for the invitation to attend this event.
It is a pleasure to be here and to have the possibility to exchange views with you. As you are aware, 2017 is a year of real importance for the CAP. The public consultation on the future of the policy ended last week, 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 Birdlife Europe and the EEB, and of course any of your individual members who took the time to respond, for your thoughtful and detailed submissions.
The Commission will now analyse the findings in preparation for a high-level conference on 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.
And as much as I am happy to be here I at the same time would like to signal my uneasiness about the title of this conference and the title for this session: "Who will fix the broken CAP" and "The CAP – no longer fit for purpose"
If this was the case there would be hardly any remaining political support for it. The CAP is a living policy, which has a direct and measurable impact on all the citizens of Europe. I am confident that by working closely with all stakeholders and decision-makers, we can arrive at a communication that elaborates a pathway towards a CAP truly fit for the 21st century.
I have been consistent in my view that, viewed as a whole, the CAP is one of the true success stories of European integration.
It has delivered real and lasting benefits for Europe, which was a broken continent 70 years ago; it is now a strong, confident world leader, and the CAP made an important contribution to this development.
Thanks to this policy, we have achieved food security, the highest global standards for safe and quality food, minimum standards for the environment, sustainable rural development, and modernisation of European agricultural practices. These are just a few examples to demonstrate the policy’s achievements.
But we must always strive to do more, and the CAP needs to step up to the plate and help to deliver on our ambitious international agreements, such as the SDGs and the Paris agreement on climate change.
In order to make this happen, we need to mandate our farmers to perform a variety of important tasks for the benefit of our society, and our planet.
I am happy to see that you have put food at the centre of this discussion today. Because this is exactly what our policy should be about: Healthy, safe and quality food, sufficiently available for everybody.
And, of course, it needs to be produced in a sustainable way.
But let us be clear: we are talking about production! And with a rising world population and a higher demand for primary products for the booming bioeconomy there can be no talk about less or reduced production.
We need to find solutions which combine the productive aspect with environmental preservation. And I sincerely believe that we have real, workable options to achieve this goal.
Precision farming, better education and training, resource efficient machinery and new models for recycling can all contribute to produce more with less.
The agricultural sector has to become a stronger player in the circular economy. By recycling nutrients; by reducing food waste; by improving energy usage: these are just some of the possibilities for a circular economy in the agricultural sector.
Of course with an ever increasing production we have to look even more carefully at our natural resources: water can only be protected if we start at farm level with careful nutrient planning. Better soil quality and carbon storage require locally adapted strategies which often include traditional farming elements such as crop rotation and low tillage.
For improving biodiversity, I proposed to ban the use of pesticides on Ecological Focus Areas.
This is just a first step, but targeting biodiversity often includes an element of spatial planning. The Dutch collective approach towards agri-environmental measures offers some new insights on how this can be used effectively.
I will not make any pre-emptive statements today in relation to how the CAP will develop in order to take these policy objectives forward. I am confident that a full range of workable policy options will emerge from the consultation process. What I can say, is that the CAP needs to be simpler – the current rules are far too complex.
On content, what I see at this stage is that:
We can only achieve our environmental and climate targets if we work together with farmers and get their full buy-in, because any implementation measures without farmers as the central actors will simply not work.
Most of the appropriate solutions need to be locally adapted. Local strategies and local solutions are necessary for achieving European objectives.
Innovation and knowledge transfer will be crucially important in order to square the circle and enhance production while safeguarding our natural resources.
And we need a good planning process in order to use tax-payers’ money in the most efficient way.
When we discuss the environmental aspect of agriculture it is clear that the effects go far beyond the sector – we need to actively involve the totality of rural areas. The Cork 2.0 declaration made this point very clear.
We need to stress the economic side of an environmentally sustainable production – a living countryside can provide for many economic knock-on effects where we should look for a combination of innovative ideas combined with local traditions.
There is one point that I would like to highlight today – a lot can already be done and achieved at this stage. We do not always have to wait for long-term policy change.
For example, this is why I have taken the initiative to begin work on sustainable water management for EU agriculture. We know that water is one of our most precious resources.
But we also know that farming and food production are water-intensive industries while the demand for more and better food is rising.
At Commission level, we have recognised that policy initiatives cannot work in isolation to address an issue as fundamental as water. For this reason, I established with my colleague, EU Environment Commissioner Vella, a Task Force on Water to develop a long-term alliance between different Commission services.
We are working towards a better implementation of the current water legislation, better investments in water infrastructure as well as the spreading of knowledge in order to improve the sustainable use of water in agriculture.
Therefore, I will travel together with Commissioner Vella to the Informal Agricultural Council where we will discuss the challenges of water and climate change for EU agriculture with all the agricultural ministers from the 28 member states.
It is the first time that an agricultural and an environment Commissioner work side by side on such an important topic.
I also work closely together with Commissioner Cretu and Bulc on Smart Villages where we will promote actions to achieve greater innovation and better resource efficiency in rural areas.
In the same vein, I am happy to see that the European Innovation Partnership is progressing well and that good examples and best practices for smart innovation are coming onstream to be applied and tested on the ground.
Therefore, as well as deepening our discussion on the future of the CAP, I would like to remind you that we should work together to identify possibilities for progress using existing tools in rural development, with the EIP and the rural development networks to work towards a more sustainable agricultural sector in Europe. There is no time to lose.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a constructive discussion with you here today. It is only by working together that we can ensure a strong coalition to design and deliver the CAP of the future. I look forward to your questions. Thank you.