Chairman Potocnik, Ladies and gentlemen,
It is my honour to be here with you today at the 2019 Forum for the Future of Agriculture. This is my fifth time speaking here as EU Agriculture Commissioner, and let me say I deeply appreciate this important forum and its relevance for the EU agri-food sector.
Earlier today, you heard from my colleague Miguel Arias Cañete, the EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, about how the Commission has proposed a suite of policies to place farmers and rural communities at the heart of the EU climate and sustainability agenda.
I believe our proposals for the future CAP and Horizon Europe represent the best hope for the future of our planet: they acknowledge that the environmental and climate challenges remain significant and they see farmers and rural communities as being part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
While we have already made some progress in reducing the impact of the agri-food sector on the climate and environment, it is very clear that we need to do more, and we need to do it faster.
Emissions from agriculture are at around 10% of total non-CO2 emissions in the EU and if we want to achieve carbon neutrality by mid-century as promised in the Paris Agreement, we have to utilize all means at our disposal to not only increase carbon efficiency but also to bring absolute emissions down.
Biodiversity, particularly in regions with intensive agriculture, is declining at an alarming rate.
Non-point pollution continues to be a challenge in many water catchment areas where we have intensive livestock production. Nitrates are in fact the main pollutant, affecting over 18% of the groundwater bodies in the EU.
So the challenge is crystal clear. The question then arises: how do we respond?
Commissioner Cañete mentioned earlier that our proposal for the next CAP can be a game-changer, and I couldn't agree more.
If we want to help our farmers to respond to these challenges, they need the right incentives. The support schemes we can design with our future CAP should become more attractive in that respect.
But this may not be sufficient. It is evident that many farmers prefer to earn their money ideally through the commodities they produce and sell in the market.
However, to face the environmental challenge it would help if the provision of “public goods” for which the farmer is paid through the CAP will be seen as an equally honourable and rewarding activity as the production of any other “commodity”.
That is where the European Commission's legislative proposal for the CAP post-2020 comes in. The existing policy toolbox is not delivering enough results, nor is it delivering fast enough.
The most recent reform of the CAP brought in the "greening" system. The logic was simple: farm payments would henceforth be tied to good environmental practices.
However, while some elements of greening had a positive impact, other elements did not deliver the results that our citizens want and our climate so desperately needs.
Our new system would be based on a partnership between farmers, all national stakeholders and administrations. The current green architecture of the CAP would be replaced by a streamlined system consisting of:
conditionality, including requirements previously included in the greening measures;
Eco-schemes in the first pillar that are mandatory for the Member States but voluntary for the farmer;
And tools in the second pillar, most importantly the agri-environment and climate measures under which farmers can voluntarily provide more targeted public goods, for which they will be paid.
The granting of income support to farmers will in this way be conditioned to their undertaking of good environmental and climate practices.
The eco-schemes in the first pillar offer significant incentive options to a broad range of farmers to engage in more environmentally friendly production methods.
Eco-schemes could provide support for extensive grazing or for more wide-spread application of flower-strips or for other measures that have worked well under pillar 2.
If the premia for the eco-schemes are sufficiently attractive, more farmers will be willing to take part.
Additionally, the fact that the eco-schemes will not require the farmer to make a multi-annual commitment might enhance the willingness of farmers to take part.
More wide-spread use of simple but attractive eco-schemes in the first pillar could then also leave more money for more targeted and more “dark green” measures such as extensive grassland management or organic farming in the second pillar.
By utilising all three layers of what we call the green architecture of the CAP, I am convinced that the new CAP can be a game changer: it would help farmers - including in very intensive regions - to make a much higher contribution to our environment and climate performance.
The second key point I want to make relates in more general terms to sustainability.
When we talk about sustainability, we mean first and foremost the sustainability of our soils, our air, our water, and our biodiversity.
But there is another crucial meaning of the word, which is just as important. This refers to the sustainability of our farmers' livelihoods. The reality is that we have to do everything in our power to guarantee the sustainability of farmers and food producers from a business and economic point of view.
If we want them to be our "boots on the ground" in the fight against climate change, they have to be rewarded for this work. This is a crucial point sometimes ignored by critics of the CAP. If our farmers can't make a fair income, how can we expect them to do more for the environment, as well as continue to guarantee our food security?
I think of the CAP as a contract between the farmers and citizens of Europe. In exchange for taxpayer support, farmers guarantee food security and a variety of other public goods.
In order to help our farmers to provide more and better environment and climate services, they need the incentives.
Our proposal for the next CAP provides all the tools and the flexibility to do so.
Polls show strong public support for maintaining agricultural policy at European level, because our citizens recognise that when it comes to this area of policy, the EU adds value to their lives in a way that national policies alone could not achieve.
So I hope you will look closely at our proposals, and recognise their value.
And I hope you will use your influence to encourage the EU co-legislators to approve these proposals, as well as reach an agreement on the next EU budget, as quickly as possible. Our citizens, and our planet, cannot wait.
A strong and well-funded CAP, working in close synergy with other key policies such as Horizon Europe, is the best hope and the most practical framework for achieving this transformation.