Speech at Forum for the Future of Agriculture 2018

Brussels, 27th March 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, I'm happy to be back at the FFA and I'm grateful for this opportunity to share with you the work currently being undertaken regarding agriculture and rural development at the European Commission.

When I spoke at this gathering last year, I stated quite plainly that as an environmental policy, the CAP is making a significant contribution but I acknowledged that it can do better.

I also made the strong point that in positioning itself as the global leader in climate and environment action, the European Union was acknowledging that we need to move beyond rhetoric and platitudes and focus on reality and action, including in food and agriculture policy.

Now, 12 months on, I am pleased to say that we are delivering on that promise. We are in the final stages of developing a plan to bring European farming and food production fully and firmly into the 21st century, placing it at the heart of our international commitments on climate and sustainability.

By devising a new system based on clear targets and performance measurement, agriculture and rural communities can assume a real leadership role in our overall sustainability agenda.

Today's panel discussion asks the question: Could European agriculture survive without the CAP?

In my view, the real question we are asking is: does the CAP provide the right policy framework to support all the political and societal demands we make of our farmers in 2018?

And if not, what changes should we introduce to make sure that it does?

The CAP already guarantees safe, affordable, high-quality food for our people - produced to the highest standards.

We must never take this achievement for granted. And we must remember that this can only remain the case if farmers can make a living from their work. If we want to maintain food security and the highest food standards in the world, we must support our farmers through the CAP.

Meanwhile, we also have an abundance of evidence in relation to the shortcomings of the current CAP. The recent Court of Auditors report argues that the current green architecture of the policy should be replaced by a more ambitious approach.

Our citizens also want to see more bang for their buck: this month's Eurobarometer survey indicates that the majority of people believe farmers need direct income support to maintain European food security while agricultural policy should deliver more benefits for our environment and climate.

And our very broad public consultation last year highlighted the overlapping societal expectations regarding food, in particular concerning food safety, food quality, environmental and animal welfare standards.

We have to plan to address these challenges in an integrated, simple and results-driven way in the future CAP.

But I also want to make it very clear that this Commission has been proactive and energetic in making as many changes as possible even within the current programming period.

We have simplified the policy significantly: improved risk management tools, established clearer rules governing intervention in markets and greater flexibility for MS to support specific sectors of economic, social or environmental importance through voluntary coupled support.

And next month we will propose legislation outlawing certain UTPs, with a view to strengthening the position of farmers in the European food chain.

Looking beyond 2020, we cannot afford to be woolly-headed in our thinking: the truth is that agricultural production will always be connected with certain levels of emissions; however, we can make huge progress if we ruthlessly focus on smart ways to lower them.

Simply scaling down production to reduce emissions is not the right option in times of growing global food demand. Measures that mitigate climate and increase resilience without undermining production potential should therefore be prioritised and encouraged. The role of new technologies and precision agriculture will be central to delivering this win-win outcome.

The right policy support will allow for economic as well as social and environmental gains. Farmers - particularly the younger generations upon whom our future plans depend – must see an attractive and rewarding career path before them. Otherwise who is going to do this work on behalf of our citizens?

Protecting the livelihood of farmers' is written into the founding treaty of the EU and that core principle remains as valid today as ever before.

The World Bank has recently carried out an assessment of the CAP and has confirmed that the policy plays an important role in the creation of better jobs for farmers across the EU. According to the World Bank:

structural transformation is well underway and relatively successful;

the gap between agricultural incomes and incomes in other sectors is closing and, across the EU, agricultural incomes are converging;

and the positive impact of decoupled support is increasing productivity and structural adjustment.

The CAP is supporting the creation of fairly remunerated jobs in the agriculture sector, while reducing poverty in rural areas. Sustainability is not just a question of the environment - we must also ensure the sustainability of our farmers' incomes.

This is a good foundation upon which to generate further social goods.

By guaranteeing farmers' ability to make a decent living, we can rely on them for our food quality, our food safety, the maintenance of our beautiful rural areas, and now increasingly for helping to preserve our climate, environment and precious biodiversity.

But we have to allow for constructive criticism of the policy: some aspects of the current CAP are not working, including the "greening" provisions.

Climate and environment action depends on results - hard, measurable numbers in relation to carbon emissions, biodiversity, soil, air and water quality.

We are therefore proposing a new CAP delivery model which places performance and results at the centre of the policy.

This is fully in keeping with the Juncker Commission's unyielding commitment to deliver more results and value added for our citizens.

A new green architecture will replace the current one, reflecting the lessons we have learned.

The CAP as a whole will henceforth be centred on a single streamlined CAP strategic plan for both pillars:

Environment and climate objectives as well as the other crucial building blocks of the new green architecture will be set at EU level.

Brussels does not need to measure the width and length of hedges – what we need to measure is soil erosion, water quality, species and biodiversity patterns, and nutrient and carbon emissions and removals.

Our EU headline objectives will combine:

First, a common base of rules will tie all farmers' income support to environment- and climate-friendly farming practices. This will take some features from the current systems of cross-compliance and "greening", which it replaces.

And second, voluntary approaches in both pillars allowing Member States to tailor entry-level environmental and climate measures best suited to their local conditions.

Let me walk through the steps in further detail. Member States would have to:

Analyse their national environmental and climate needs and conditions;

Devise a mixture of mandatory and voluntary measures in Pillar I and Pillar II such as entry level Eco-schemes plus more targeted Agri-Environment-Climate measures;

Explore the introduction of nutrient management plans and incentives for precision agriculture;

And include adequate and specific environmental and climate targets in their national CAP strategic plans allowing for clear performance assessment.

This system will bring a multitude of clear advantages:

Both mandatory and voluntary approaches would be maintained, but they would be based on less prescriptive and less detailed provisions at EU level and allow for important simplifications;

There will be real benefits for both MS and farmers, thanks to substantial flexibility to tailor and target actions in line with local conditions;

And there will be better results, through the strategic planning of targeted actions subject to performance measurement.

I want to knock one persistent falsehood on the head. This is not renationalisation of the CAP. Giving MS more flexibility does not in any way, shape or form equate to giving them a free pass.

The European Commission will remain the sole guarantor of the policy and the engine of our new delivery model. All Member State plans will require Commission approval.

With increased levels of conditionality and clear boundaries, we will tie in the MS to ensure that they deliver on their part of the bargain.

But we have to start applying more common sense to our policymaking. The "one size fits all" approach has failed.

Instead, MS will have the room to base their actions on what works for them. And by making smart use of existing scientific data, we can ease the burden for everyone concerned.

The JRC can tell us the levels of soil erosion on a given parcel of land using satellite technology – we don’t need MS to replicate this work.

The new conditionality, entry-level schemes, other eco-schemes and more ambitious Pillar II agri-environment-climate measures can achieve a great deal but they must be complemented by various other types of policy intervention – for example, support for training and advice, investment, various forms of co-operation, and the pursuit of innovation.

The CAP will continue to offer support in all these areas.

The whole package will therefore help farmers to follow various avenues of "smart" agriculture – including precision farming.

This is crucial, because agriculture, unlike many other sectors, has huge potential to deliver more added value through innovation

Encouraging and enhancing carbon sequestration and the development of the bioeconomy will be important for rural areas and the whole economy. It will also be essential to ensure that the mitigation contribution of agriculture will not lag behind those of other sectors. Incentivising additional carbon sequestration through agriculture and farming will therefore be one of the very important components for the future CAP.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I ask once more the question governing's today's panel: do we need a Common Agricultural Policy?

To which my response would be a strong and unequivocal YES – but let's work together to make sure that our shared European food and farming policy is modern, smart, sustainable and fitted to the times we live in.

Our farmers are essential to meeting many societal objectives such as food security, as well as helping to meet targets on environment and climate and deliver other public goods. No other group can deliver for society in a comparable way, and no policy framework can support them as well as the CAP. Thank you.