Thank you, Roderick, and thanks also to your team for organising this informal Council.
I am particularly pleased to be joined here today by good friend and colleague, Commissioner Vella. Our joint participation in your meeting is a clear indication of our shared commitment to addressing the issues of agriculture, sustainable water management and food security.
In that respect, I welcome the focus that you have put on the issues of climate change and water resources. Your paper is a very good document, that correctly identifies the key challenges and is a very good basis for a productive discussion on a topic of utmost importance.
We are approaching this debate from a position of strength – namely the hard-won global consensus outlined in the COP21Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a strong impetus for action, and a clear framework for moving ahead.
But the challenge remains enormous: 2016 was the hottest year on record and a new high for the third year in a row.
In this context, sustainable water management has to be at the very top of the political agenda. The UN describes water as "a lifeline for humanity" and this is certainly the case in the context of delivering sustainable food security.
As human populations continue to grow rapidly and economies expand, water resources are being depleted and polluted at an alarming rate.
Farming and food production are water-intensive industries and water is a finite natural resource. So, if we want to meet the global demand for more and better food, we need to join efforts and work hard to make agriculture more productive but also more resource-efficient.
And the challenge is manifold. Water quality is deteriorating across Europe. Scarcity of water, which was typically affecting many Southern European Member States, is now increasingly felt in many Northern European regions, which limits water availability for the agricultural sector.
In this context, it is not alone welcome but essential that the issues of water and agriculture receive growing attention in the international agenda. Sustainable water management is the explicit target of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, which calls for a global agriculture able to enhance farming productivity while reducing the impact on the availability and quality of water.
I discussed this in January at the G20 meeting of Agriculture Ministers, in which some of you particpated. The related declaration underlines that water is an essential production resource for agriculture and is therefore critical for feeding the growing world population.
President Galdes, today's discussion is based on your very skilfully drafted paper. The Commission recently published a Commission Staff Working Document (SWD) on "Agriculture and Sustainable Water Management in the EU". Both documents not alone cover similar issues, but identify similar challenges which, together, we must address as a matter of urgency.
The Commission Staff Working Document is the first output of joint work undertaken by my colleague Commissioner Vella and I. We have joined forces to establish a "Task Force on Water" (TFW) to tackle the pressing issue of sustainable water management in agriculture.
This joint initiative is, for the first time, bringing together a Commissioner for the Environment and a Commissioner for Agriculture to discuss with you the clear linkages between agriculture and water.
But we are not alone. You might have noted the joint statement by Vice-President Katainen, Commissioner Vella and I on World Water Day. The Vice-President is every bit as interested in the topic as Commissioner Moedas and Commissioner Navracsics who helps us on the innovation and knowledge side.
I am convinced that such a cross-sectorial approach is crucial and, indeed, essential, if we want to achieve a real change.
So what concretely do we want to achieve? As there is no time to lose, we focus our current efforts on immediate actions.
The Staff Working Document outlines the challenges and the opportunities we are facing in the EU to improve our water status.
I would invite all of you to make full use of the wide range of existing policy tools to improve the availability and quality of water.
I ask you to make better use of possibilities offered in terms of knowledge-transfer, innovation and, especially, investment support. More resource efficiency needs further investments and better knowledge.
I can only encourage each of you to look at the possibilities provided to introduce nutrient management plans which are crucial for achieving a better water status.
We all should use the potential provided by the European Innovation Partnerships on Water and Agriculture to foster knowledge and innovation support.
The mobilisation of additional funding for necessary investments is crucial.
In this respect, the new agriculture window under EFSI 2.0 is an opportunity to be seized. Colleagues are working hard to identify a portfolio of investments/projects and to explore the potential combination with different financial sources.
I don't want to stay abstract – let me reassure you, the work of the water task force is very concrete. Let me point you to some first actions:
- A joint meeting of Water and Agriculture directors took place on 8 May, on the basis of which the Presidency drafted conclusions;
- An assessment of investment needs has started with the active involvement of Member Sate administrations. On this basis we will be able to build a portfolio of potential types of projects that allows for a better use of EFSI. This will be ready in autumn.
- We are currently evaluating how to improve the synergies between the two European Innovation Partnerships. I am confident that we will soon be able to organise joint workshops or combine work on specific topics.
- And, as a last example, we are working currently with the JRC on setting-up an EU-level water and agriculture knowledge hub. The information available at that hub should help all of us to find the appropriate solitons for every single region in Europe.
As you can see, we are active. But as much as we are active, I call on you to be active too.
I invite all of you to carry the take the momentum with you home and to look for immediate solutions. Please engage actively with the Commission services in these endeavours. We will help you where we can.
I now I hand over to you, Karmenu, to add your views and ideas and I look forward to our debate.