[Check against delivery]

May I begin by saying that it is a great pleasure for me to be here this morning to present the Commission's Communication on the Future of Food and Farming. 

EU agriculture is one of the world's leading producers of food and a leading trade actor. In 2016, agri-food exports were worth over €130 billion.

In over 50 years the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has developed and provided the framework for adaptations of the sector to changing circumstances. 

As challenges continue we need to keep the CAP fit for purpose as enabling environment for EU agriculture.

Last month the Commission adopted a Communication on the Future of Food and Farming. 

As you know, the European Commission engaged in an open, wide and transparent exchange of views with stakeholders and citizens (including a public consultation with over 322 000 submissions).

With the Communication, the Commission is sharing with you our vision for the future course of the Common Agricultural Policy.

First, I would like to make it clear that the Communication does not prejudge in any way the MFF. As you are aware, the Commission will present its proposal on the MFF in May 2018. However, we need to know where we are going with the CAP, and what we want to achieve, without prejudice to budgetary questions.

We are combining continuity of what works with ideas for essential improvements of the CAP which will serve both farmers and society – evolution rather than revolution.

We are also very clear that the CAP needs to remain a strongly market-oriented policy. Maintaining a level playing field and a strong internal market are priorities.

There are also important new aspects which we are proposing, including

  • a strengthening of our environmental and climatic ambition;

  • a greater emphasis on knowledge and innovation;

  • a new relationship between the EU, the Member States and the farmers. Essentially, we are talking about a new partnership;

  • developing and making best use of our financial instruments; and

  • a number of other key issues, in particular the future of rural areas and of the next generation of EU farmers and a balanced approach to trade

The question of sustainability of agriculture is and has to be at the heart of our farm policy work.  Agriculture depends on the availability of natural resources and a functioning ecosystem. Farmers know this and know that it is absolutely in their interest.

The CAP has, over many years, incorporated sustainability considerations and successive reforms provided enhanced incentives for the sector to rely on better, more sustainable production techniques.

However, despite these achievements, we must do more and raise our ambition to deliver further on sustainability.

The Communication examines how we can enhance the efficiency of our support system and maximise the contribution of the CAP support towards EU environmental and climate change legislation and policies

As a foundation, farmers receiving income support from the CAP will have to apply various environment and climate-friendly practices.

This means that there will not be a "greening" scheme as we know it today, which has proven to be complex to implement and administer. All direct payments will be conditional on the application of environment and climate-friendly practices.

Member States will determine the detail of the practices in line with the need to meet EU-level objectives but also taking into account national, regional and local circumstances.

The system will draw on strengths currently observed in the CAP but will involve fewer and less complex rules in EU legislation.

The CAP will also place strong emphasis on unlocking the potential of research, innovation, training and the use of advice to improve care for the environment and climate, including through greater resource efficiency and circularity.

A smart and modern agricultural sector

Research and innovation are vital to progress towards more sustainable farming systems delivering healthy and nutritious food while protecting the environment.

The CAP currently already supports a shift towards a more knowledge-based agriculture under its rural development policy.

Largely due to European innovation partnership for agriculture productivity and sustainability (EIP-AGRI), farmers and researchers are now working together hand-in-hand to solve the problems of tomorrow

The Communication puts forward various avenues for further reflection on how to strengthen the knowledge basis of EU agriculture stressing that the future CAP

  • will need to enhance even more synergies with the Research and Innovation Policy in fostering innovation and

  • should strengthen farm advisory services as an essential tool to guarantee the transmission of knowledge to the farms. This should be a condition before we put the other interventions in place.

There is a wide diversity of agriculture, agronomic production potential, climatic, environmental and socio-economic conditions across the EU. We have concluded, therefore, that a one-size-fits-all approach is no longer appropriate.

For this reason, the Communication points to an increased subsidiarity so that you, the Member States, can better tailor implementing measures to your realities and your farmers' specific circumstances.

However, the policy continues to be designed under a common framework based on common objectives agreed at EU level to ensure EU-value added.

Let me be crystal clear here: this is not a renationalisation of the CAP. We will ensure that there is a proven return from the support granted with tax-payers' money.

We appreciate that some of these ideas raise concerns and we take them seriously – a common policy has been and is in our all interest, not least for a functioning single market. And I want to reassurance you of the importance that we place on such a single market.

As Commissioner Hogan provided his reassurance during his exchange with members of COMAGRI on 29th November, let me also echo how the Commission sees the future governance system:

  • The move from an emphasis on compliance to results requires a clear identification of the objectives which the policy has to achieve: these objectives will be established at EU level;

  • The new system will require MS/regions to design a "CAP Strategic Plan". This will entail undertaking an ex-ante assessment to identify their needs, and then defining the targets and the choice of interventions to achieve these targets. The interventions will be pre-defined in the basic act and will include decoupled income support for farmers, coupled support, investment support, and environmental actions;

     

  • The CAP plan will be subject to approval by the Commission, which will examine the strategy proposed, the consistency between EU Objectives and targets defined by the MS, as well as coherence between the interventions chosen, the targets and financial allocations defined by the MS;

  • The results-driven approach means that target-setting and performance measurement will be at the MS level;

  • Another aspect where complexity can be reduced relates to certain EU-wide compliance rules, which are in place to ensure that certain outcomes are achieved. These are considered too complex and it will now be for MS to define them;

  • There is a legitimate concern that the lighter approach proposed by the Commission could result in MS applying unnecessary obligations on beneficiaries. As part of the process of scrutinising the CAP plans, the Commission will look carefully at how to avoid over-regulation and "gold plating" and

  • Bureaucracy at the beneficiary level will be reduced, particularly through the use of modern technology, such as satellite technology and IT solutions to replace old-style paper applications and physical checks etc.

In essence, what is being proposed here is a significant shift in responsibilities and opportunities within a common framework, clearly defined and enforced, to deliver on more than one key objective at the same time, namely simplification, result-orientation (rather than compliance) and policy efficiency and effectiveness.

As announced by President Juncker in his State of the Union speech on 13 September, the Commission will present its comprehensive proposal for the future Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) beyond 2020 in May 2018.

The future EU budget will be driven by key principles of EU added-value, accountability, flexibility and simplification of rules.

More debate and work will be needed over the next months to advance on the directions outlined in the Communication and to refine concepts (in parallel with the work on the next MFF).   In that respect, the Commission looks forward to your active engagement in that debate.

Together with the expected presentation of the next MFF in May 2018, legislative proposals on the sectorial policies, including the CAP, are expected to follow.

We know and accept that this means working against an ambitious time table and that we are looking to a challenging period ahead – this will require a strong and continuous commitment from all of us.

But we believe that it is in our common interest to deliver on the right enabling environment for EU agriculture to continue to provide its many benefits to EU citizens.

Thank you.