Introduction

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, let me begin by thanking Commissioner Gabriel for her excellent intervention.

You know, as EU Commissioner for Agriculture I travel to many new places to talk about many topics. I have been to Germany to talk about wolves, to Denmark to talk about pigs, to Italy to talk about olives and now to Bulgaria to talk about bees!

Joking aside, dear friends, I can assure you that the issue of bee health is one the European Commission takes extremely seriously.

In recent years, our attention and indeed public attention has been drawn to the plight of honeybee populations, which have seen losses in the EU and around the world. Behind this highly publicised phenomenon is a much larger problem, namely the dramatic decline in the occurrence and diversity of all kinds of wild insect pollinators, including wild bees, hoverflies, butterflies and moths.

Numerous pollinator species are extinct or threatened with extinction, in Europe and around the world.

This is a real cause for concern because bees are a vitally important part of healthy ecosystems. They are also for the sustainability of our agriculture.

Pollinator-dependent crops often rely on animal pollination. In the EU alone, around 84 % of crop species and 78 % of wild flower species depend, at least in part, on animal pollination. We estimate that up to €15 billion of the EU’s annual agricultural output is directly attributed to insect pollinators.

Accordingly, the Commission sees the role of honeybees not only as “honey producers”, but also their importance as pollinators to maintain and sustain our ecosystems and biodiversity.

It is essential that all stakeholders at all levels - European, national, and regional - join forces in doing everything possible to counter the extremely worrying trend of honeybee population decline.

And today's special theme - digitisation in beekeeping - can certainly be one important element in addressing these challenges.

Let me therefore congratulate you for addressing this issue and my thanks to Commissioner Gabriel for inviting me to speak at this important event here in Sofia.

Support Under Current CAP and H2020

My key message to you is that the Common Agricultural Policy and other key European funds are already providing strong tools for positive action, and in the future we will do even more.

The European Innovation Partnership (EIP) for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability fosters innovation and promotes the exchange of knowledge by linking research and farm practice. Supported by CAP rural development funding and Horizon 2020 research funding, an increasing number of research and innovation projects and initiatives have seen the light. 

Although the EIP-AGRI approach was voluntary for Member States and regions, its uptake has been impressive. The vast majority of rural development programmes (98 out of 118 across 27 MS) have taken up the challenge. They foresee substantial financial and administrative support to a growing number of Operational Groups.

Some 3000 Operational Groups are expected to be set up over the period 2014-2020, of which around than 850 are already up and running.

In the first half of 2019 the EIP-AGRI Network will launch a Focus Group on “Bee health and sustainable beekeeping”.

The Focus Group will gather 20 experts across the EU to look into how to ensure the sustainability of beekeeping in the face of challenges linked to pests and diseases, intensification of agriculture and climate change.

The experts will discuss and document research results, best practices and identify the implications for further research activities that will help to solve practical problems in the sector. They will also identify practical innovative solutions to problems or opportunities in the field, which can give rise to new Operational Groups

Horizon 2020

Meanwhile, a number of European projects funded under Horizon 2020 have focused on finding solutions to some of the more pressing problems of the beekeeping sector through digital technologies.

The objectives are to find new tools, new innovations that support beekeepers assess and overcome the particular complexity of their business environment.

One example of such projects is the SWARMonitor: the aim was to develop a tool for diagnostic monitoring of honeybee colonies, with the objective to let the beekeeper know about the status of his or her colonies without the need to open the hives, by sending an alarm to the beekeeper’s mobile phone when a colony intended to swarm, thus requiring intervention.

The BEE LABEL project concluded last year. Bee Angels is a young French SME that has developed and commercialised the first generation of a new connected beehive system called Bee Label. The system allows beekeepers to check remotely their hives and to take proactive steps to keep bees safe, to fight against their disappearance and ensure pollination.

Another example is the 3Bee Hive-Tech, an innovative system designed for monitoring beehives, which provides real time analysis to predict and to prevent bee death due to environmental and biological factors

Future CAP

For the future CAP we propose a modernisation and simplification of policy, a fairer and more targeted distribution of funds, an enhanced climate and environmental ambition and action for growth and jobs in rural areas.

At the heart of the new CAP there will be a new partnership between the EU and its Member States.

This is in line with the strong calls for a simpler, a more result-based and a more targeted policy on the one hand, and, on the other hand, for keeping a common policy.

At EU level we will maintain the elements needed to preserve the common character of the policy.

Within this simplified but common EU framework, Member States will benefit from enhanced flexibility to choose and design CAP interventions in line with their needs. They will have to analyse, describe and justify interventions and funding in a national CAP Strategic Plan over two pillars in order to provide for a streamlined policy delivery.

The apiculture sector contributes not only to the honey production, but to the future CAP’s specific objectives, in particular those related to environment and climate.

The nine specific objectives will be the single access point for the new performance-based system which will frame the planning and design of the future CAP enabling Member States to come up with better targeted and simpler actions.

Based on these nine specific objectives, Member States will:

  • identify their needs referred to each objective;
  • choose and design the details of their interventions targeted to their identified needs;
  • identify what they intend to achieve with these interventions;
  • and monitor and evaluate policy progress against the common objectives.

This will allow Member States to come up with an integrated and coherent action plan covering both pillars.

However, this does not imply a “carte-blanche” for the Member States. They will still be bound by the requirements of what remains a strong common EU framework, while being able to use the opportunities offered by the CAP.

For the apicultural sector this opens up the possibility for targeted support programmes.

Member States will have the freedom to introduce national apiculture programmes with a view to improve general conditions and marketing of apiculture products, such honey, royal jelly, beeswax, propolis and pollen.

In the future CAP the apiculture programmes will become part of the strategic plan and are to be developed by the Member States in cooperation with the beekeeping sector. This will certainly offer potential for digital applications.

This could be for instance monitoring the plants that are flowering, or perhaps to use drones for the counting of beehives – an important part of following the development of the sector.

However, it is not for the Commission to decide how to best deploy the digital means. The sector and experts are better placed to look in to their needs and available tools, and to see how these can be combined.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Commissioner Gabriel, ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have given you a good overview of how the CAP and related EU policies can support the apiculture sector and contribute to a sustainable future for our precious honeybees.

I wish you a productive discussion today, and I want to assure you that the European Commission is on your side. We are ready to support you in any way we can. Thank you.