There is an element of solidarity about the EU. We had major problems, we went through them together. There are more challenges ahead, but it is better to address them together.
- Commissioner Phil Hogan -
Citizens' Dialogue in Aarhus, Denmark
On 20 June 2016, a Citizens' Dialogue took place at the newly constructed DOKK1 cultural and community centre in Aarhus harbour, attracting some 200 participants. Commissioner Phil Hogan was joined on stage for the first part of the discussion, focusing mainly on agriculture-related issues, by Agricultural Council and COPA President Martin Merrild. During the second half of the debate, focussing more on the EU in general, the Commissioner was joined by the Dutch Ambassador to Denmark, H.E. Henk Swarttouw, representing the Council Presidency. The event was moderated by the well-known foreign affairs editor of Denmark's Radio, Mr Niels Kvale. During the lively discussion, the Commissioner and citizens discussed various agriculture-related issues as well as broader EU issues such as economic growth and jobs, the Investment Plan, TTIP, the circular economy, energy, environment and climate, migration, and the UK referendum.
The Dialogue started off with a discussion on how to feed a growing number of people on the planet while preserving the environment. Commissioner Hogan confirmed that it was possible to produce good quality food, for an increasing number of people, while using fewer resources. "With the help of research and innovation, we can have a more sustainable agriculture", he said.
As regards rural development policy, Commissioner Hogan emphasised the importance of keeping people in the countryside. "It makes a lot of difference that people actually live in the countryside. Part of rural development policy is to keep farmers in rural areas. In addition to producing food, farmers grow plants that make us less dependent on fossil fuels. They are thus involved in renewable energy, but are also protecting the environment, and supporting healthy living and clean water."
Agricultural Council and COPA President Merrild shared Commissioner Hogan's view on the importance of attracting people to rural areas, and highlighted the possibilities provided by organic production and agri-tourism.
Commissioner Hogan explained how the EU supports farmers under the Common Agricultural Policy, including pig farmers (a key sector within Danish agriculture) and what it does to alleviate the ongoing difficult situation faced by dairy farmers.
Responding to concerns regarding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), Commissioner Hogan explained that trade is good and is necessary for the improvement of the living standards of farmers. He made it clear, however, that "the EU will not lower food standards for TTIP, nor for any other trade agreement".
Commissioner Hogan called food waste "disgraceful" and stressed that it will be addressed by measures under the circular economy.
For the second half of the Dialogue, Commissioner Hogan was joined on stage by the Dutch Ambassador to Denmark, H.E. Henk Swarttouw. In this part of the debate, participants focussed their questions on the most important current issues, such as growth and jobs, migration and the UK referendum.
Reacting to the results of a vote by participants on their priorities, Commissioner Hogan stressed that the Juncker Commission had identified the same priorities: economic growth and jobs are top of the Commission's agenda, together with the environment, climate and agriculture.
Responding to criticism of the EU's slow reaction, the Commissioner underlined that the decision-making process has become much faster under this Commission. He gave the example of the Investment Plan, which went through the legislative process in just six months.
The event in Aarhus was part of a series of Citizens' Dialogues that involve the whole European Commission and take place in all EU Member States.
Special features of the Dialogue
The Dialogue took place in the DOKK1 cultural venue, in a room which opened onto a main hall, which also accommodated the café/restaurant of the building. In this way, in addition to the approximately 200 people inside the room, those sitting in the café could also follow the Dialogue.
The Dialogue was made up of two parts, with different stage partners representing different policy areas, resulting in a very balanced debate. The timing of the Dialogue, just three days before the UK referendum, naturally contributed to the interest in the event; yet the discussion on the UK referendum did not overshadow the other topics.
Commissioner Hogan connected well with the audience. His responses were free of EU jargon, yet very precise. The atmosphere remained good throughout the dialogue, with participants appreciating the honest, clear responses.
Quote from the acting Head of Representation, Michael Vedsø:
"The Citizens' Dialogue proved a particularly successful example of engaging directly with European citizens amidst an improving economic situation marred by a continued difficult political situation across Europe."