Speech by Commissioner Wojciechowski to the European Parliament Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety

 

Dear Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Thank you very much for the invitation to be with you here today. This is my first occasion to speak to your committee as Commissioner for Agriculture. These are exceptional times for all of us.  We are living a true European moment – a moment for Europe to prove its power of solidarity.

As Agriculture Commissioner, I am keen to engage in a debate on CAP matters with the entire European Parliament. Agriculture and rural development concerns all of us. The recent crisis proves that we need our farmers for producing food, but also as land stewards essential to our rural areas.

The COVID-19 crisis has hit the whole European economy hard, agriculture has also felt the impact.

Some sectors have suffered more than others. As you know, we have already activated a range of market measures to provide relief to these sectors. For instance, support for private storage of selected dairy and meat products, and we are already now seeing signs of recovery in terms of prices.

Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies

Turning now to the latest Commission initiative – the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, to translate the Green Deal ambition into action.

You all know that the Commission presented the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies as part of the European Green Deal. This is not a proposal for a new agricultural policy, but about reforming the entire food system in a sustainable way. It aims to design fairer, healthier and environmentally-friendly food systems in the EU by 2030.

The new Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies, provide an important part of these answers. 

Delivering on this ambitious vision requires a transition at all stages of the food supply chain – requiring efforts, engagement and responsibility from all actors.

Here, it is important for me to underline that farmers will play a key, although not the sole, part in this process. We expect a lot from all actors in the food supply chain.

To deliver on this ambitious vision, we need, first and foremost, sustainable consumer demand. Maybe we should call this a "Fork-to-Farm" strategy. That is why a wide range of actions in the strategy focuses on consumers and retail; on how to help consumers make healthier and more environmentally friendly choices.

The strategy recognises that EU farmers have made great efforts to produce in a more sustainable way – and successfully so. However, we cannot lean back. Agriculture is directly affected by climate change and depends on high-quality eco-systems. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels.

That is why the Commission proposes targets for 2030 to drive our common policy agenda. The Commission believes it will be necessary to significantly reduce the use and risks of chemical plant protection products, as well as the use of fertilisers and antibiotics, while increasing the area of organic farming.

Adoption of the Farm-to-Fork Strategy is the start of a long process, with many individual pieces of legislation still needed to be drafted and on which I am keen to engage in discussions with the European Parliament and the Council.

Not allowing the European Parliament and Member States enough time to properly prepare to the change of rules, would be detrimental to successful implementation of European Green Deal.

Take the case of the secondary legislation on organics, where I would like to have your support for putting in place a robust and trustworthy organic scheme, resistant to fraud.

The targets should not be about prescribing what farmers must do, but about creating an environmentally-friendly, fairer and high-quality regulatory framework that will not increase red tape.

The Farm-to-Fork Strategy envisages a just transition to a sustainable food supply system. It explicitly recognises the need for fair economic returns in the supply chain, including for our farmers.

Therefore, the Commission will closely monitor food security, as well as competitiveness of farmers and food operators closely throughout the process and adjust as needed.

The Strategy underlines the Commission is keen to work with the co-legislators to improve agricultural rules that strengthen the position of farmers in the food supply chain. I look forward to our cooperation on this issue, which is an essential part of ensuring fairness for farmers.

We will work with our international partners to make sustainability a global “trade mark” ,for example, consider to review import tolerances for certain substances, respecting WTO rules.

We will mobilise the Common Agricultural Policy to support farmers in the transition – it will

  • continue to provide strong support for farm income
  • encourage sustainable farming practices under both pillars
  • support farmers to fully explore the new opportunities, such as bio-economy, circular economy, digitalisation and responses to new societal and consumer demands

In this context, I would like to underline that the issue of animal transport is an important one.

From 2009 to 2017, the number of animals transported within the EU increased by 19%, from 1.25 billion to 1.49 billion. The numbers for pigs, poultry and horses increased, whereas those for cattle, sheep and goats decreased. Over the same period, according to TRACES – the Commission’s platform for animal transport - the number of consignments of live animals in the EU increased from about 400,000 to 430,000 per year.

If we want more locally-produced food we have to re-think.

With a view to enhancing the resilience of regional and local food systems, the Commission will support reducing dependence on long-haul transportation in order to create shorter supply chains. About 1.3 billion tonnes of primary agricultural, forestry and fishery products were transported on roads in 2017.

European Green Deal and CAP Reform

I said earlier that the two new strategies are not new agricultural policies.

As requested by the European Parliament, by you, the Commission has analysed the contribution of the CAP reform proposal to the EU’s environmental, climate, and biodiversity protection commitments in order to fully align it to the Green Deal goals.

The analysis, published on 20 May, concludes that the CAP reform proposal is compatible with the Green Deal and the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. It has the potential to accommodate the Green Deal’s ambitions.

In practice:

1. It identifies the need to maintain key provisions of the Commission’s proposal in the final legislation. Key provision include the ambitious system of conditionality, mandatory eco-schemes and ring-fenced spending for environment and climate policies of 30% of the rural development budget for each CAP Plan.

The capacity of the future CAP to accommodate the Green Deal ambition depends on the final compromise reached. This means the European Parliament will have a crucial role to play in making the Green Deal a success. I look forward to future debates on this!

2. The analysis concludes that, without the need to change the current proposals, certain improvements could be achieved in the ongoing work of the co-legislators.

The Commission is, for example, open to discuss a minimum ring-fencing for eco-schemes; but we need to make sure it is sufficiently ambitious!

I welcome the ambition of this committee to ring-fence CAP amounts for environment and climate. We have to find a compromise, but let me be clear, we have to take this matter seriously. We can certainly not afford backsliding and be less ambitious than the Commission’s proposal.

3. The analysis considers that the Commission should develop additional practical actions to ensure the future CAP helps to achieve the Green Deal ambition. Amongst others, this includes:

  • Creating a structured dialogue with Member States for preparation of CAP strategic plans, including by providing recommendations to each Member State in respect of the nine CAP specific objectives;
  • An adequate “no backsliding” principle obliging Member States in their CAP Strategic Plans to show an increased ambition than at present with regard to environmental and climate-related objectives;
  • In order to ensure that the Green Deal targets are appropriately reflected in the CAP Strategic Plans, the Commission will ask Member States to set explicit national values for targets relevant for the Farm-to-Fork and Biodiversity Strategies. This will show how Member States plan to contribute to the new EU ambition and indicate efforts to be made at national level;
  • Proposing legislation to enlarge the scope of the Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) to include sustainability indicators and strengthen its links with advisory services;
  • provisions to improve the position of farmers in the food supply chain.
  • The new ‘eco-schemes’ will offer a major stream of funding to boost sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, agro-ecology - including organic farming - , carbon farming and agro-forestry. Member States and the Commission will have to ensure that they are appropriately resourced and implemented in the Strategic Plans. The Commission will support the introduction of a minimum ring-fencing budget for eco-schemes.

New MFF proposals and recovery

Last week, the Commission presented a revised Multi-annual Financial Framework and a recovery package. Adequate funding is essential to achieve the Green Deal targets in agriculture.

The revised proposals for the MFF 2021-2027 substantially reinforces the CAP funding. In total, EUR 391 billion is proposed for agriculture and rural development, commensurate to the importance of agriculture and rural development in the EU: it adds EUR 26.4 billion to the Commission’s 2018 proposal. It is 2% higher than 2020 funding levels. That means that the sector will receive 2% more funds each year than it received in 2020.

The farmers deserve being given the resources to continue producing our food in a more sustainable way, especially in these difficult times. The new resources will also make the sector more resilient to external shocks while continuing to benefit from the Single Market and its strong competitive advantage.

I would like to thank the President and all the colleagues for her excellent cooperation that produced this very positive outcome for all farmers across all regions, countries and sectors. I hope that these proposals will also be welcome during the upcoming negotiations by the co-legislators.

The current crisis has hit us hard, both from a human perspective and from an economic perspective. Our citizens expect a response from the EU.

I sincerely hope that the peak of the pandemic has passed. It is now time to start the economic recovery, which must help all citizens, also those in rural areas.

I believe we should not go back to where we were before this crisis, but use the recovery to tackle important challenges. We need to help the transition to a sustainable future, with not only economic, but also ecologic sustainability.

The MFF has been reinforced up to EUR 1100 billion. The budget for CAP has been criticised by many for being either too big or too small. It is time to put this discussion behind us. The crisis has proven that we need a strong CAP to ensure food security and sustainability in agriculture. We need to ensure a safe supply of food in our supermarkets, every day, and no-one but our farmers can ensure that.

A well-funded CAP is our key instrument for this. Our food has to be produced in a sustainable way; this is becoming even more important and the Commission has recognised this in the proposal.

We have to focus on the next generation of citizens and farmers. The next generation feels the responsibility for sustainable development and calls for a green, digital and resilient future.

Honourable Members,

The Farm-to-Fork and the Biodiversity strategy will, together with the CAP reform, provide a comprehensive answer to the environmental, social and economic challenges of our time.

All of this will help our farmers in producing more sustainably EU agriculture and the EU food system as a whole.

I hope that we can say in ten years from now that we have made good use of the last decade and not wasted time towards our ultimate long-term goal, notably maintaining Europe as a place worth living in.

Thank you for your attention on this important matter and I now look forward to a constructive discussion.