Commissioner Moedas, Secretary General Plank, ladies and gentlemen,
Today you will hear from some of the top experts in Europe about the economic and environmental potential of the bioeconomy. Carlos thank you for your very eloquent outline of why the revised EU Bioeconomy Strategy will lead the way forward.
I propose to take a slightly different tack. I want to make the political case for why we need a strong bioeconomy as part of the 21st century rejuvenation of our rural areas.
I believe Europe has an unprecedented opportunity to show the world how to build modern, thriving rural communities combining existing traditions with modern innovation.
Let me start by mentioning some of the bioeconomy projects I have personally visited in recent months.
Bioeconomy Projects: Sardinia
In September I visited the First2Run project on Sardinia, an integrated biorefinery for dry crops.
This is an excellent bioeconomy flagship project ticking many boxes: famers are producing cardoon thistle on marginal land, which is a low input crop that grows under arid conditions. They get support from the CAP under agri-environmental measures. The seeds of the thistle can be used for producing oil, and the biomass from the plant can be used to obtain cellulose and hemicellulose.
The refinery has been built on a deserted fossil-oil facility, making it an excellent example of the sustainable “re-industrialisation” of Europe.
It also has a research centre working in close cooperation with national research institutes. The Novamont consortium which runs the project signed a strategic agreement with the Italian farmers association Coldiretti, and other groups, to ensure that farmers receive a dividend for their involvement.
At present about 1,000 hectares are being used for experiments. The CEO of Novamont, Catia Bastoli, will make a presentation later today and I urge you all to pay close attention.
Bioeconomy Projects: Ireland
Next let me jump from the dry farming conditions of Sardinia to the slightly wetter farming conditions of the country I know best, Ireland.
In April I participated in the announcement of EU funding for a new bio-economy research project led by the Irish agricultural cooperative Glanbia.
The project, known as “AgriChemWhey” will receive €22 million from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking under Horizon 2020.
This is the first dairy industry project to be awarded funding under the programme, and it will explore the development of a new state-of-the-art, bio-refinery with a world-first process for converting by-products from the dairy industry into high value bio-based products including biodegradable plastics.
The project will take low value by-products from the dairy processing industry – excess whey permeate and delactosed whey permeate – and convert them into cost competitive, sustainable lactic acid.
Lactic acid can then be used in value-added bio-based products for growing global markets, including biodegradable plastics, bio-based fertiliser and minerals for human nutrition.
I will be in Ireland this Friday to promote this project and the broader benefits of the bioeconomy at local level.
Bioeconomy Projects: Sweden
Finally, let me jump from the green fields of Ireland to the green forests of Sweden. In September 2017 I visited the Sodra Forestry Company in Sweden, where their goals for economic growth and sustainability growth go hand in hand.
The group’s production is virtually fossil-free, because most of the energy they use is renewable, and generated from forest products. The target for their production is to be totally fossil-free by 2020; and when it comes to transport, the target is to be totally fossil-free by 2030. This will be achieved by optimising logistics and using green fuels.
51,000 forest owners in southern Sweden are the foundation for all Södra’s operations.
Revised EU Bioeconomy Strategy
These are three great examples of what is already happening across Europe.
Now we must build on this foundation and do much more.
The revised EU Bioeconomy Strategy points the way forward.
And it must be noted that the Commission is not just supporting this agenda with lofty words – we are putting our money where our mouth is. We know that the demand for feed, food and fibre will continue to grow.
This will continue to put pressure on our land resources, be it forested land or agricultural land. This increases the need to look for more innovative and sustainable uses of our natural resources.
That is why, for the next EU budget, spanning the years 2021-2027, the Commission is proposing €100 billion for Horizon Europe – the most ambitious research and innovation programme ever.
Of this, €10 billion is dedicated to the primary sectors including the bioeconomy: a real breakthrough.
I want to pay particular tribute to my colleague, Commissioner Carlos Moedas, for his unyielding commitment to this agenda.
Carlos, you have shown energy, vision and steel in abundance, and Europe will be a far better place thanks to your efforts.
My own portfolio of agriculture and rural development will also support the bioeconomy more strongly than ever before.
One key element of the strategy is to make innovative solutions and relevant research more widely available to final users: in other words, farmers, foresters, rural businesses and the rural population at large.
The main instrument to deliver this for agriculture is the European Innovation Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture (known as “EIP-AGRI”) which will be strengthened and enhanced under the new CAP and Horizon Europe.
This European initiative has been highly successful in bringing innovation to rural areas. It has supported over 700 innovative projects to date – through what we call Operational Groups. At the end of 2020 we expect more than 3000 of these groups to be active in deploying innovation solutions all over Europe, including in the bioeconomy and circular economy.
Next February key EIP-AGRI actors will come together in Vilnius to develop “Diversification opportunities for farmers in the circular bioeconomy”, and I am encouraged by the fact that the interest to participate in this event is great.
The Commission’s proposal for the new CAP, running from 2021 to 2027, aims to make a much stronger contribution to the sustainable development agenda. Therefore we are showing higher ambition and focusing more on results in relation to resource efficiency, environmental care and climate action.
The Bioeconomy will play a key role in achieving these aims.
Dividend for farmers
I have travelled all over Europe to meet farmers and foresters, and I am convinced that not alone do they fully understand the urgency of the climate challenge, they are ready and eager to play their part.
But we have to give them the tools and structures to succeed, and we have to invest heavily in these same tools and structures.
I believe our farm families and rural citizens will feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in making a key contribution to our climate and sustainability agenda.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we are on the cusp of something truly important with the launch of this revised EU Bioeconomy Strategy.
We estimate that bio-based industries can generate up to one million new jobs by 2030.
At the same time, the bioeconomy will make a major contribution to meeting our renewable energy targets of 27% in 2020 and 32% in 2030.
But there is still much work to do. At national level, despite the fact that the number of national bioeconomy strategies has been increasing, many Member States still remain without one.
It is imperative that all MS develop a clear bioeconomy strategy which is coherent with the EU’s objectives.
The Commission’s proposal for the future CAP will be helpful in this context. Each Member State will be tasked with drawing up a CAP Strategic Plan to outline their targets and expected results according to 9 key objectives, and the bioeconomy is one of these.
In conclusion, it is clear that the bioeconomy, if we handle it correctly, can tick multiple boxes. It will boost the rural economy and contribute to the climate challenge, certainly. But beyond that, it will create new, integrated agricultural value chains, which will boost rural economic cohesion.
And even more importantly, it will allow our farmers, foresters and other rural economic actors to lead from the front in finding solutions to problems affecting society at large. Working in the frontlines of our economic and climate transformation can generate a new sense of pride and belonging for rural communities.
It will lead to high-quality jobs for our young rural citizens. And let us not forget: just one high quality job for one young rural citizen means an extra family in a local area, more children in a local school, more participants in local cultural, spiritual and sporting events: all in all, more life where new life is urgently needed.
The bioeconomy is just one strand in the Commission’s plan for rural rejuvenation. Other strategies include the Smart Villages initiative, which aims to find holistic solutions to improve rural connectivity, services and infrastructure.
We will maintain strong support for the continued roll-out of high speed broadband to rural areas.
And through our rural development policy we will support the continued diversification of the rural economy, notably through the successful, locally led, bottom-up approach of the LEADER programme.
Today represents a very important milestone, and I look forward to working with you all to use this great momentum to keep moving forward. Thank you.