“Future of the CAP: Modernisation & Simplification"
Minister Jurgiel, Ministers, elected representatives, ladies and gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to be back in Jasionka. I think the fact that so many ministers are in attendance reflects the importance of this debate, and indeed the importance of farmers and rural communities in the countries you represent.
This is a region which takes great pride in its rural areas and agri-food sector, and I believe the record shows that since becoming EU Members, the Visegrad Four and indeed Lithuania have benefited greatly from the Common Agricultural Policy.
When I attended this conference one year ago, I made the point that the CAP is delivering real results for the people of Central and Eastern Europe.
Today I want to make a strong case that the CAP remains the best hope for our farmers and rural communities, and I am asking for your support to improve the policy so that it can do even more.
This is a challenging time for our agri-food sector and our rural areas. Farmers have experienced several years of profound price difficulties as a result of negative external factors such as the Russian ban on European products.
The Russian ban had a severe impact here in Poland, and in this region as a whole. The Commission reacted swiftly by providing strong support to farmers across the EU.
Here in Poland, producers of fruit and vegetables have received aid totalling €215 million since the beginning of the Russian ban, corresponding to the withdrawal of 686,000 tonnes of fruits and vegetables.
And at Monday's European Council of Agriculture Ministers, I responded to a direct request from Poland by announcing that the Commission will, in view of persisting market difficulties, continue temporary exceptional measures for certain fruits after 1 July 2017. This proves President Juncker's statement that "Europe will always stand by its farmers".
Beyond market difficulties, there are broader challenges. Rural depopulation continues at an alarming rate, as young people seek new opportunities in urban areas. And the CAP, like all European policies, has entered a period of uncertainty following the UK's decision to leave the EU.
But the CAP is a strong, dynamic policy. It evolves and adapts to meet the challenges of the day.
And I believe that this era is no exception – the CAP will once more transform itself to offer the best possible support to farmers, agri-businesses and rural families.
For this reason, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced in December that this year, 2017, will be an important year for modernising and simplifying the policy.
In February, we took 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 all Visegrad agri-food stakeholders to make their voices heard.
We have already had over 13,500 responses, which is hugely encouraging, though I must add that we have had very few from this region. So I am calling on you to let your citizens and stakeholders know that we want to hear from them!
The public consultation will form the basis for a Communication on the future of the CAP, which will be published later this year and will outline a range of policy options.
It is time to assess and improve the policy tools to support farmers in times of market difficulty and make them more resilient in a globalised world.
The CAP is an increasingly market-orientated policy and, as such, is subject to prevailing market conditions which, as we have seen in recent years, are not always favourable.
It is therefore essential that while the policy continues to support farmers and ensure a basic income safety net, it also provides farmers with the necessary instruments to deal with market volatility and price fluctuations.
The policy must provide more effective targeted support empowering farmers to help achieve the sustainable development goals and to fulfil the EU's ambitious international climate targets.
And we need to keep the sector attractive for the next generation of innovating young farmers.
But none of this can happen unless the CAP is adequately funded.
Of course, pressures such as Brexit and the migration challenge are placing unprecedented strain on the European budget, but I am confident that a well-funded CAP can be maintained if politicians, agri-food stakeholders and rural communities speak up and remind their national governments about the clear value the policy brings to all citizens.
I am therefore asking for your support in keeping a well-funded CAP high on the political agenda. Our farmers and rural communities deserve nothing less.
Let me conclude by assuring you that the European Commission will remain firmly on the side of farmers in the coming years.
We are now entering a phase of reflection and consultation together, and with your support, we can emerge on the other side with a stronger, fairer, more efficient, and more sustainable CAP. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on these important topics during the panel debate.