"Enhancing International Cooperation in Agriculture in the Mediterranean region"
Minister Martina, Minister Galdes, Minister Panariti, Minister Taeib, elected representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very grateful for the invitation to participate in this conference here at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Bari.
This very impressive institution is home to a deep and expanding well of knowledge in many of the most critically important research areas relating to farming and sustainable food production in the 21st century.
I would like to pay tribute to the very valuable work being undertaken by CIHEAM. Looking at your Identity and Strategic Agenda 2025, I am struck by your ambition.
So much of what you aim to achieve, particularly in the areas of sustainable agriculture, food and nutrition security and rural development, have enormous resonance not alone throughout the Mediterranean region, but throughout the European Union and indeed across the world.
Your priority areas in collaboration and research shine a spotlight on issues such as food security, poverty alleviation, capacity building at institutional level, more efficient use of natural resources, improvement of agricultural production and productivity, promotion of organic farming, development of sustainable food systems, resilience to climate change, and gender empowerment.
Many of these areas are also very high on the priority list of the European Commission, as we seek to modernise and simplify the Common Agricultural Policy which governs farming and food production throughout Europe.
It's my great pleasure to be back in Italy – I have been a regular visitor since becoming Commissioner, which reflects the importance of this country as a cradle of European farming and agricultural tradition.
Before addressing the subject of today's conference, I would like to once again, on behalf of the European Commission, express our solidarity with Italy following your tragic and devastating recent experience of repeated earthquakes and after-shocks.
We are confident that, as proven on numerous occasions, the Italian people will overcome this difficult situation with determination and courage and that the affected rural communities will soon recover their dynamism and optimism.
I also want to stress that the Commission remains fully committed to assist in this very difficult situation.
After the earthquake, we first offered our assistance to address the immediate emergency situation, and later to start rebuilding, together with the national authorities.
President Juncker noted that: "It is our duty as Europeans to stand by Italy and its citizens, who are showing extraordinary courage in times of difficulty and to help reconstruct fully the areas damaged. Reconstructing the beautiful Basilica of San Benedetto in Norcia with the help of EU funds will be a lasting symbol of EU solidarity and of the ability of the Italian people to bounce back."
As regards the CAP, the relevant legislation has already been adjusted so that Italy may grant additional support to farmers in the affected areas.
I would like to underline that the Mediterranean region is a priority region for the EU, today and for the future, not least because of our interdependence in so many areas, whether they are political, economic or social.
On both sides of this great sea, our people are bound together as neighbours through our interdependence in many areas – political, economic, social, and agricultural.
But policymakers on both sides of the Mediterranean have faced significant political and socio-economic challenges in recent years, notably in the area of migration.
This remains one of the most challenging issues for the EU and its Mediterranean neighbours and the recent European Council held in Malta was devoted to precisely this topic.
And today I want to deliver this message to you: it needs to be more broadly understood that working closely with our third country partners on agriculture policy has a vital role to play in this huge task.
The CAP has become far more outward-looking and is today truly plugged into the global economy. The policy provides numerous public goods for society – ranging from environmental, to healthy living, to exports and jobs and of course, feeding a growing world population.
European farmers and agri-businesses are today competing on international markets to sell our high-quality food and drink products, including Italy's world-famous origin products: 284 food products, 603 wines and 37 spirit drinks.
And, crucially, the CAP's stronger global outlook means the policy has a more positive impact on other parts of the world than was the case in the past.
When it comes to the Mediterranean region and the migration challenge, there is a clear double challenge in relation to enhancing cooperation in agriculture. First, in terms of food security, we need to produce more and better food using fewer resources, given that land and water scarcity are particularly acute in this region.
Indeed, earlier today I spoke about the work the Commission is doing to streamline policies relating to sustainable water quality and supply. This will, I believe, have huge relevance for policy planning on both sides of the Mediterranean.
Food security is a challenge for all of us. It is a challenge for the developing world, much of which faces enormous constraints, but it is also a challenge for those of us who don't necessarily face the same constraints. Some of us have the luxury of being able to produce an abundance and indeed surplus of food and that provides an opportunity to help our fellow citizens - with whom we share this precious planet - to feed themselves.
Secondly, we need to create jobs and growth particularly for younger citizens in order to give them the chance to stay and contribute to the development of their economies. This will help to address one of the root causes of migration at source.
The statistics are crystal clear: 375 million new African jobseekers will reach working age in the next 15 years, and without sufficient economic opportunities in their home regions, they may seek them elsewhere. This could lead to migratory flows greater than anything we have experienced in recent years.
Over 60 per cent of these young men and women originate in the African rural economy. Therefore, investing in capacity-building and modernisation in the agri-food sector at local and regional level makes good economic sense.
The scale of the challenge is illustrated in the following extract from a 2016 International Labour Organisation paper:
"The magnitude of this cohort, which equates to the current population of Canada and the United States combined, added to the sizable and growing share of sub-Saharan African population in global population, suggests that the targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will be elusive unless there is significant and coordinated action to address the youth employment challenge in the region."
Further to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we know that agriculture and water together play a substantial role and are intrinsically linked to several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on jobs, food security, climate change, and the environment.
The European Commission is fully committed to supporting this rural transformation in Africa, in order to create stable jobs and long term futures for its growing population. Migration is already one of the key elements of the Global Strategy (Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe; A Global Strategy for the European Union's Foreign and Security Policy), that was launched in June 2016 by HRVP Mogerhini.
We are vigorously pursuing this aim within our Migration Partnership Framework Partnership with third countries and our cooperation with the African Union. This new results-orientated Partnership Framework was launched to mobilise and focus EU actions with a more holistic approach.
At the November 2015 Valletta Summit, EU and African leaders committed to facilitate agribusiness investment in Africa, strongly promoting private investment and access to functioning markets to achieve African 'rural transformation'.
The Africa-EU Summit at the end of this year, in Abidjan, constitutes an opportunity to continue our dialogue and cooperation in this area.
Within this context, we welcome the initiative of the CIHEAM to focus on migration from the perspective of agricultural development. It is very timely and relevant.
The EU has an important role to play in sharing innovations, good farming techniques and sustainable practices with other regions of the world, including our Mediterranean neighbours.
In this regard, the Commission greatly appreciates the activities already carried out by CIHEAM and the Mediterranean Innovation Partnership (MIP) in mobilising all relevant actors involved in innovation and knowledge transfer in the member countries in order to improve water availability and sustainability.
Equally, we are well aware of the active role of CIHEAM in providing expertise to the Commission in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy for the South and more particularly through the ENPARD initiative.
ENPARD provides a framework for dialogue and experience sharing for agriculture and rural development between the EU, its Member States and our neighbours in the Mediterranean.
Indeed, we need a holistic approach to improve the living conditions of the populations exposed to food, climate and income uncertainty, by involving all actors and all sectors.
We have put on the table important resources like the EU Trust Fund for Africa (through Valetta) and now the European External Investment Plan (EEIP).
Perhaps, this is an opportunity to remind you that I have just recently launched a public consultation on the modernisation and simplification of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy. In addition to wanting to see a policy that is fit-for-purpose in the 21st century, I want to see a policy that more directly contributes to the priorities of the European Commission, of which migration policy is one.
Apart from the root causes of irregular migration, to which I referred earlier, the Member States of the European Union now need to build on the encouraging results in relation to the relocation and resettlement of migrants and I want to explore what contribution the CAP can make in this regard.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to repeat my appreciation for the invitation to be with you today and to have had the opportunity to participate in the earlier seminar as well as this conference. I have found these two sessions to be very stimulating and, if there is one message that I will take away from Bari, it is that the task for us in the EU is to step up our efforts, together with our partners in Africa and the neighbourhood, in order to deliver a lasting change. Thank you.