The CAP Today and Tomorrow
Minister Rupprechter, MEP Köstinger, President Pernkopf,
I'm happy to be here with you in beautiful Vienna today - this is my second visit to your country. Just 12 months ago, Minister Rupprechter kindly hosted me at the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture and Forestry.
I know that Austria is a country where citizens take great pride in your beautiful countryside, with its world-renowned mountains, lakes and forests. And you have a proud agricultural tradition: 32% of Austria is agricultural area while forests cover 44%.
On the subject of forests, let me use this opportunity to thank MEP Köstinger for her great work chairing the Forestry Intergroup in the European Parliament.
I have spoken at the Intergroup on a number of occasions and I am thankful for their work in promoting the importance of forests for a number of EU policy goals: biodiversity, the bio-economy and circular economy, carbon sinks, and a number of other important environmental targets. And of course, providing high-quality jobs and growth in rural areas!
In Austria, maintenance of rural jobs and growth is very relevant, given that almost half of your 8.4 million population lives in rural areas.
You have a unique farming sector, famous for small-scale holdings in rugged terrain. Indeed, some 87% of farm holdings are located in mountain areas and areas facing natural or other specific constraints.
And you are one of the EU Member State with the highest levels of agricultural area dedicated to organic farming – as high as 20%.
All these factors require the support system of a smart, sustainable and flexible agricultural policy. And I'm confident that the CAP is stepping up to the mark.
The CAP budget provides a total of €8.8 billion in EU funds for Austria in the period 2014 to 2020. Of this total, €4.9 billion goes to Direct Payments, supporting farmers and market measures, and €3.9 billion goes to support Rural Development.
It is good to know that Austria as well as other Member States apply the aid supplement for young farmers for the first 5 years, in addition to already existing installation grants. This is a very positive sign that Austria wants to support a new, innovative generation of farming men and women.
This is also a big priority for me. Just last week, I told a meeting of young European farmers that we need to do more at European level to promote generational renewal, and I hope young Austrian farmers will support me in this work.
The unique situation of Austria, where 60% of the total land surface is alpine and around 70% of the agricultural area is classified as ‘less-favoured,’ has a clear impact on the design of your RDP.
You have put a strong emphasis on measures to preserve the majestic alpine ecosystem and supporting farmers in areas facing natural constraints. And I strongly support this policy choice.
Today's CAP is different to the one in our history books. We now have a market-oriented policy - the butter mountains and wine lakes are gone and export subsidies are no longer used.
With an ever increasing world population, food security is at the forefront of our thinking. I am also well aware of the growing societal concerns about how our food is produced and I take this seriously. The CAP provides a vital degree of stability to farm revenues, supporting farm businesses to produce top quality food while respecting the high environmental standards which consumers expect.
The stability that the CAP provides is positive not just for farmers but also for the whole EU agri-food sector, which is the largest employer in the EU – providing 44 million jobs, many of which are located in rural regions.
On-farm investment through rural development programmes has helped improve competitiveness and the sector's production potential, notably by attracting other public and private investment. Figures for 2007-2013 show that €8.7 billion of EU funds was spent supporting the modernisation of 380 000 farms across Europe, which in turn raised another €25 billion in private investment.
The improvements achieved through these investments in the farm sector also have positive knock-on effects in the food industry.
These figures show how important the CAP is for a viable and sustainable agricultural sector and for the benefit of all European citizens. And I am glad to see that Austrian citizens share this view. Eurobarometer surveys generally show that over two thirds of Austrians believe the CAP benefits all citizens, and not just farmers.
I look forward to visiting two Austrian dairy farms this afternoon; the Steiner farm and the Zuber farm. I expect to see two holdings taking full advantage of opportunities for smart business development while contributing to the attractiveness and economic development of the rural areas in which they farm. And I am curious to hear how the CAP and its rural development policy can contribute to supporting these farms in the future.
As you can see, the CAP delivers. But we can always do better and we have to reduce the complexity of our policy. This is why I am calling for the support of all stakeholders and farmers across Austria and throughout the EU in beginning to design a blueprint for the future of the CAP.
In December Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a roadmap to begin designing the future CAP, which will culminate with the publication of a Commission Communication by the end of 2017. This process will begin with a wide-ranging public consultation, which will launch 3 days from now on February 2nd, and I look forward to receiving submissions from Austrian stakeholders.
I want the CAP to remain the strongest ally of Austrian farmers and rural areas. But to protect the CAP budget and improve its functioning, we need to form a consensus around how the future CAP should look.
President Juncker, who is a strong believer in the CAP, said in December that "as a fundamental and indispensable European policy, the CAP must be simplified to ease the administrative burden on farmers, and modernised to face the challenges of the 21st century, including our sustainable development objectives".
I believe that there are a small number of key principles that should be prioritised, based on our market experiences as well as our international commitments.
The future CAP has to ensure:
greater market resilience;
more sustainable agricultural production;
and progress on generational renewal.
As well as this, I know that Austrian farmers and rural citizens will want to see the continuation of a strong and smart Rural Development Policy. I fully agree with this principle, indeed I have already begun to address it. Last September, the Commission hosted a 2-day conference in Cork, Ireland, where over 350 experts and rural stakeholders elaborated a Declaration on the Future of EU Rural Development.
This document, entitled "A Better Life for Rural Areas" contains 10 points which call for investment in the potential of rural areas, not just in terms of jobs and growth but equally for better integration into other policies.
During International Green Week in Berlin – where I was pleased to meet Minister Rupprechter and MEP Köstinger – I hosted a meeting to begin transforming the Cork 2 priorities into action. We will soon launch a website where you can see all the actions being taken, and I encourage Austrian rural stakeholders to get involved.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I want the CAP to continue doing a good job for Austrian farmers and rural communities. I look forward to working closely with you to making this happen.