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Distinguished Guests,

Dear Member of Parliament, Ms Bonafé

Ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to our bioeconomy policy day.

The bioeconomy is incredibly vast; it touches on so many industries, regions, countries.

In my home country, Portugal, one of our most famous exports is cork. Those of you who have visited Lisbon will know that you can't go far without finding a shop that sells hundreds of different products made from it. It is one of the most iconic representations of Portugal. We are the largest producer of cork in the world and provide 50% of the world supply in our single country alone. Our cork industry generates 100,000 tonnes per year, creates roughly €1 billion in turnover and employs 60,000 people. But even though this industry is so significant, and even though I grew up surrounded by the products from this industry, I never thought of it as an example of the bioeconomy. And I don't believe that I am an exception in this case. Many people don't make the connection.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Just a few days ago, we have published the review of our bio-economy strategy. It shows we have enormous progress. Many of the actions we set out on have been accomplished. But it also shows there are several things that need our attention.

I wish to make three points today, the first of which refers to what I just mentioned about the cork industry;

  1. First, we need to improve our communication surrounding the bioeconomy.
  2. Second is that the bioeconomy will only succeed if different policy areas and disciplines work together.
  3. And thirdly, we need to encourage greater private investment in the bioeconomy.

 

Let me start by talking about public perceptions of the bioeconomy.

In total the bioeconomy represents €2.2 trillion of the EU’s economy. And it accounts for 9% of its workforce. It is truly an enormous part of our lives. And yet, the public do not understand what the bioeconomy is.

For me the importance is clear:

In the first place, it creates economic opportunity. In particular in rural areas, it provides a source of income. For example, in my region in Portugal, which is a poor region, the cork industry provides a livelihood, creating an income that allows parents to send their children to university. It provides a future.

Second, the bio-economy supports other priorities, such as the circular economy, climate change or food security.

This is what the European public cares about. But often citizens don't make the link between this and the bioeconomy.

If we are to get across the importance of the bioeconomy at a national level, and at an EU level, we must start with the people. So that citizens across Europe know and understand the significance of cork and their own equivalent in their home countries.

All of you gathered here today have an important responsibility in this.

Earlier this morning, the bio-economy stakeholder panel presented me their Manifesto. I want to take the opportunity to thank the stakeholder panel, and in particular the Chair – Joanna Dupont-Ingles for their hard work on this.

The manifesto recognises the complexity of the topic. But at the same time, it reached out to a wide variety of stakeholders, from the forestry sector, to fisheries, to NGOs and many others. It creates common understanding of what the bio-economy is. It creates a common engagement to promote its potential.

Today the Bioeconomy Village also helps to to communicate about the good examples of their industry. But we need to do more. To talk to people who are not already sold on the idea and convinced of its importance. Who, if they are stopped on the street, won't be able to tell you what the bioeconomy is

This brings me to my second point: different disciplines must work together on the bioeconomy.

This is clearly the case for research and innovation in this area. Because of the wide scope of the bio-economy researchers and innovators dealing with energy, agricultural technologies, social sciences, environmental technologies and so many more need to work together, to develop the knowledge and solutions. To create impact in people's lives.

But the interdisciplinarity is just as much applicable to our policies. There are many policies which can be very well thought out in their own domain. But as long as they are not embedded in other policies with which they are linked, the impact will be limited.

This message is starting to get through in the bioeconomy. And we see more and more countries mobilising the political will to work across policies.

Take Finland for an example. Finland has a well-defined and developed bioeconomy strategy. A strategy that combines efforts from five different ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office. And many other governmental tools.

The result is that Finland has forests that are supplying paper, textile, medicines, chemicals, plastics, smart packaging and much more. Forests also account for 80% of Finnish renewable energy. And yet, with all these uses Finland’s forests are still growing every year.

This is what is possible when different sectors plan strategically. And this coherency in policy is a must for the bioeconomy in Europe to have as much impact as it can.

 

This brings me to my final point on increasing private investment. Because we cannot have a flourishing bioeconomy without the full and active involvement of the private sector.

We are making significant European research and innovation investments in the bio-economy. But to make a real impact, we need to mobilise private investments.

By 2025, the aim is that each euro invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research and innovation will generate 10 euro of added value.

There's a company in Sardinia called Matrica. It is a perfect marriage between a company called Versalia, a petrochemical manufacturer, and Novamont, a bioplastics producer. These two companies discovered an old petrochemical plant located near Porto Torres and converted it. In its second life, the plant was reincarnated as a bio-refinery. Here they brought green alchemy to life by creating products from raw vegetable waste. Bioplastics, plant protection products, food fragrances. All of these were created at the bio-refinery.

And what was most significant about this new venture was the impact – Matrica completely re-energised the local rural community, all while having an incredibly low level environmental impact. By using local biodiversity, local labour and local resources, Matrica was able to regenerate the economic and social fabric of the area.

But we know that companies like Matrica will not just invest in the bio-economy because of interesting ideas. A precondition for private investements is a stable and predictable policy framework.

But in order to get there we have got to improve the coherence of our policy. As I mentioned in my previous point, the bio-economy touches on many policies. To provide stability for investors, we must ensure that all policies point towards the same direction in support of the bio-economy. That our regulatory environment encourages private investment.

We cannot be one of the hurdles that companies face. We must be facilitating their entry into the race and standing on the side lines cheering them on.

There is sometimes a perception that companies do not want to enter this area. This is totally untrue. And to give further direction, we are establishing a bio-economy investment platform in the work programme for the last three years of Horizon 2020, worth 100 million euro, creating more incentive to start investing in innovative bio-economy projects.

And of course the interest to invest is visible through the dedication of the industry partners involved in the Bio-Based Industries joint undertaking. They simply need to right policies, the right incentives, and intelligent regulations.

This is our mission.

 

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I mentioned earlier, we have just adopted the review of the bioeconomy strategy. Now it is time to look ahead.

By the end of next year, we will propose and update of our strategy. We will adjust it to reflect the main lessons learned and the advances that have been in the past years.

But we will also explore if we should broaden the scope. To see whether we can give the bio-economy a role in modernizing our European Industry – in line with the view that President Juncker set out in his State of the European Union in September.

And we will seek to give the bio-economy the place it deserves in the modernisation of the Common Agircultural Policy.

I want to take a moment to thank Commissioner Hogan and all of his colleagues in DG AGRI. Commissioner Hogan will be with us later today. But he has made it clear, both in his words and in his actions, the importance he places on the bieconomy. And with his support we are creating a truly new and positive direction for the bioeconomy in Europe.

MEP Simona Bonafé also deserves praise for her work on the European bioeconomy. She has worked tirelessly to ensure European citizens are living in a truly circular economy and she has been a strong advocate for what we are trying to achieve here today. 

But I want to conclude with another "thank you". I want to thank all of you gathered here today. All I ask is that you continue to stay as committed as you have been until now and help us to continue to tell the bioeconomy story across Europe.

With our combined actions we will have a true bioeconomy in Europe. One that works in tandem with nature to provide for our needs. While also protecting our environment for generations to come.

I look forward to hearing the results of today’s discussions. I hope that you will all engage with this strategy. And help us to build Europe’s bioeconomy.

Thank you.