Good afternoon Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to see so many familiar faces and to welcome a few new faces! The OECD Conference on Rural Development is always a great opportunity to take stock of where we are, and where we are going, when it comes to smart and modern policies for our rural areas.

In Memphis 3 years ago, I gave an outline of what EU rural development policy is doing at the present time. Today, I will look more to the future.

We are currently finalising the European Commission proposal for the next programming period of our agriculture and rural development policy, spanning the years 2020 to 2027.

We believe without question that a strong rural development policy helps to ensure the vitality of our rural areas, and serves the well-being of society as a whole.

And we believe innovation must be at the heart of any meaningful rural development policy. We need to find smarter ways to empower rural communities, giving them the tools to not only enhance the well-being of their families and regions, but to provide more benefits for society as a whole.

I am delighted that the European Network for Rural Development has been closely involved with the pre-conference sessions which have helped prepare the ground for our discussions today. Networking, as demonstrated in action here in Edinburgh by the ENRD, is a key tool supported under EU Rural Development Policy. It aims to identify and share good practice in rural development and promote innovative approaches.

I understand the pre-conference saw rural practitioners showcase a range of exciting and innovative initiatives and projects already going on in rural areas – from adding value in the food chain both here in Scotland and in Italy, to developing Smart Villages in Germany. It provided a space for a wide mix of rural practitioners – from farmers and food business, local development groups and public authorities directly implementing rural policies – to connect and exchange views on the practical conditions and policies needed to enable such new approaches. As policy makers we need to listen closely to the key messages that emerged.

The 10 megatrends identified by the OECD provide a solid foundation for our work. The global picture of population growth, irregular migration, rural development, as well as the climate and environment challenge, emphasises the need for innovative solutions. And there is no time to waste.

We need to step up our efforts to address these challenges, and the final text we agree for the Edinburgh Policy Statement should prove very valuable in that regard.

Thankfully, we have many excellent examples to draw inspiration from.

The OECD's Rural Policy 3.0 plan is very well aligned with the work we are doing at European Union level.

There is an urgent need to do more in the innovation space, because agriculture will be asked to address more societal concerns than ever before in the coming years, including resource efficiency, and rural residents expect and deserve the same living standards as urban dwellers.

Ensuring long-term food and nutrition security, providing the basis for healthier diets, addressing environmental and climate sustainability or boosting the sustainable growth of rural territories: none of these can happen without significant investments in R&I.

International Commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement cannot be met without significant agricultural and rural R&I.

On average, twenty years separate the start of a research project and its application in agriculture. Therefore, we need to start developing TODAY the new knowledge we will need in 5, 10 or 20 years’ time.

We also need to make better use of the knowledge already available. Farming and rural communities need to be better connected, and made more aware of new technologies, new business models and new forms of cooperation which could improve their resilience and their quality of life.

The CAP supports the roll out of innovative agri-tech solutions under EU rural development policy: providing targeted investments, knowledge transfer, advice, and cooperation projects to develop new products, processes and technologies.

Meanwhile, our strong commitment to doing more in the future is captured in the Cork 2.0 Declaration, entitled "A Better Life in Rural Areas".

This declaration was signed in September 2016, when more than 340 rural stakeholders, including a number who are here today, met in Cork, Ireland and developed a joint vision for the future of rural areas and their development. This inclusive drafting process yielded a document which I believe is in synergy with the OECD's Rural Policy 3.0 plan, particularly in relation to emphasising innovation and knowledge exchange in future policies. I’m delighted to see Heino von Meyer, who could be called the midwife of the Cork declaration, with us here, contributing also to this event.

Innovation also features strongly in the European Commission's Communication on “The Future of Food and Farming” which is the policy foundation to address all challenges which confront the EU’s farm sector and rural areas.

As we look to the future, it clear that the CAP:

  • Will need to build even more synergies with Research and Innovation Policy in relation to fostering innovation;
  • And needs to strengthen the role of farm advice to guarantee the transmission of knowledge to farmers – the people working on and in the ground.

We are looking into the best ways to place knowledge & innovation at the heart of the CAP, building on the successes and obstacles identified. The synergies that we have built between the CAP and Horizon 2020 are a solid basis on which we can build the future.

The future of agricultural research and innovation will be discussed in Brussels on 2 and 3 May 2018 at the Conference  on "Innovating for the future of farming and rural communities" organised by DG AGRI.

This Agri-Research Conference will look at ways to build greater synergies between EU policies contributing to agricultural and rural R&I.

It will kick-start stronger stakeholder involvement in the definition of future European R&I activities on agriculture and rural development. It aims in particular to maximise synergies with EU policy objectives, in particular the CAP, and other key players in the R&I space.

I warmly invite you all to attend this conference, or to follow it on-line.

In conclusion, we are committed to putting innovation at the heart of multiple EU policies, and we believe our experience can be very valuable in shaping the final text of the Edinburgh Policy Statement.  I look forward to working closely with you, today and in the coming months, to make progress in this critically important area of rural development policy. Thank you.