Minister García Tejerina, MEP Aguilera García, representatives of the Spanish government and Spanish regions, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you first of all to the Minister and MEP for their reflections. Strong voices like yours need to be heard if we are to maintain a well-funded, modernised and simplified CAP beyond 2020.
I'm grateful for the invitation to be here today. We are living in a moment of great importance for the future of our farmers, for the future of our food businesses, and of course for the future of our rural families and communities.
I would like to provide you with a more detailed understanding of my thinking in this process, and I will conclude by explaining how you can help. This is a challenge for us all, and it is only by speaking with a strong united voice on behalf of our farmers that we will succeed.
Strength of Current CAP
Let me begin by reminding you of how far we have already come in the development of a smart and sustainable European Food and Agriculture Policy. Through successive reforms, including most recently in 2013, the CAP has evolved to become absolutely central to the competitiveness of European agriculture, as well as absolutely central to the well-being of our rural areas.
As my colleague and good friend, Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete has often reminded me, the importance of agriculture for the European economy is often forgotten.
But the statistics don't lie: driven by growing world food demand, the agri-food sector is today the 4th largest export sector in the EU.
The value of our exports has increased by 70% in the last 5 years - that is, faster than overall EU exports. This bodes very well for the continued growth of European agriculture.
And let me remind you that if every sector of the economy was growing as fast as agri-food, Europe would have returned to stable growth a long time ago!
Spain’s agri-food sector is an important contributor to that growth. This is a country where you clearly understand that agriculture can play a central role to drive overall growth – Spain ranks in 6th place at EU level for exports to global markets, exporting over €8.6 billion euro in 2013, more than 140% or almost one and a half times what it exported only 10 years ago.
Today, agri-food represents 15% of the total goods exported from Spain. And this is having a direct and positive impact on employment.
I have been saying since my appointment as Commissioner two and a half years ago that the contribution of the agri-food sector to economic progress and job creation is really taking off.
And I am convinced it can increase significantly in the coming years, if the right support structures are put in place. Agribusiness can play a central role in sustainable economic growth in this century, including right here in Spain.
And the CAP is at the heart of this success. Spanish producers will receive income support of €34.5 billion in the 2014 to 2020 period.
Meanwhile, your Rural Development Policy is also having a strong positive impact. Your 18 regional programmes and one national programme are funded to the tune of €8.3 billion, focusing on the improvement of the competitiveness of the agri-food sector, prioritising farm restructuring, as well as the environmental and social sustainability of rural areas. They promote job creation and investments to improve living conditions in rural communities.
So you may be asking why we need to make further changes to the policy. My answer is simple: we must never rest on our laurels when it comes to improving the CAP to support our farmers, for the benefit of all European citizens.
Modernisation & Simplification
A number of developments explain why we are looking at modernising and simplifying the CAP so soon after the 2013 reform:
First, the current policy is too complex – this is why we need further CAP simplification.
Second, there have been rapid changes in the broader policy environment surrounding EU agriculture - from markets and trade to climate change and environmental challenges – this is why we need further CAP modernisation.
Farmers in Spain and across Europe have faced unprecedented challenges in these past two years. We need to examine and improve the policy tools to support farmers in times of such crises and to make them more resilient in a globalised world.
When it comes to the environment, agriculture in Europe is facing challenges of an ecological and territorial nature, which are common as they do not stop at national borders and at the same time specific as they affect different parts of Europe differently.
I am aware of the specific environmental challenges that you face in Spain, with recurring problems associated with water availability, high risks of droughts, and soil erosion; while climate change is clearly having a very negative impact on agricultural production.
The simple reality is that we need to do more, and better, to meet these challenges head-on. I am fully aware of the strong efforts Spain is making to improve water conservation and sustainability. This is extremely important work.
As Commissioner Canete has said, agriculture distinguishes itself from other economic sectors in that it comes with a vast potential of climate solutions - an element which a modernised CAP should promote.
The CAP and farmers are the frontline actors who will help to achieve the sustainable development goals and to fulfil Europe's ambitious international climate targets.
And we need to do more on generational renewal, keeping the sector attractive for the next generation of innovating young farmers. In Spain, 5.3% of your farmers are under age 35.
This is slightly below the EU average, which is a fact you urgently need to address for the sustainable future of your sector. I want to see a strong range of policy options in the modernised CAP to support you in this work.
The CAP is an increasingly market-orientated policy and, as such, is subject to prevailing market conditions, which as we know from the past 2 years, are not always favourable.
It is therefore essential that the CAP - which is designed to support farmers and ensure a basic safety net and income support - also provides those same farmers with the necessary instruments to deal with market volatility and price fluctuations.
In addition to this, I am sure you will agree that we need to make the policy simpler and less bureaucratic. This has, as you know, been a constant theme of mine since my appointment as Commissioner and it is something to which I remain committed, and for which I believe there is considerable support among Spain's farming community of almost 1 million people, and among Europe's 22 million farmers.
We need the policy to deliver a better life and better jobs for the rural communities in which our farmers live, work and raise their families, with a sufficient income and fair return for their work.
To put it short, we need a policy that delivers sufficient, safe and high-quality food for all citizens; and provides for a living, thriving countryside. Without farmers, there is no food. As President Juncker recalled in his State of the Union speech, agriculture is "a strong part of our European way of life", which must be preserved.
This is why Commission President Juncker announced in December that 2017 will be a key year for modernising and simplifying the policy.
In February, I announced the first step of this journey when I launched a public consultation on the future of the CAP.
This consultation is open until May 2nd, and I encourage any agri-food stakeholders to make their voices heard.
We have already had over 20,000 responses, which is hugely encouraging, and I want to hear even more voices! So let me call on Spanish citizens, farmers and agri-food stakeholders to make their contribution, we they can do quickly and easily online, in the Spanish language.
The public consultation will form the basis for a Communication on the future of the CAP, which will be published in late 2017 and will highlight a range of policy options.
We must also take into account the difficult reality of Brexit. With the UK leaving the EU, there will be a hole in the European budget. And when it comes to responding to this huge change, the Spanish government and regions have to answer the question: where do your priorities lie?
I would remind you that the success of your agri-food sector in exporting and creating jobs can only be secured with a strong and well-funded CAP.
Ladies and gentlemen, the CAP is a living policy – it is dynamic, and rises to meet different societal challenges as the times demand. We, as policy makers and agri-food stakeholders, have a responsibility to ensure that the policy is adequate to meet the challenges of the day.
As we celebrate 60 years of European peace and prosperity, we must remind our citizens of our many successes. This is particularly important in a time when eurosceptics and populists are increasingly misleading our citizens about the value of European cooperation.
And there is no greater European success story than the CAP – the policy which has transformed Europe from a region of chronic food shortage in the 1950s to being the best global address for food today.
European citizens enjoy the highest quality and safest food in the world, at reasonable prices. Our rural areas are playing an ever-increasing role in meeting our shared societal challenges: climate change, environmental sustainability, regional economic growth and balanced development.
Now, I am asking for your support to build a food and agriculture policy truly fit for the 21st Century. Thank you.