Ladies and gentlemen, Minister Bucht, LRF members,
I’m very happy to be here with you today. Thank you for the invitation. Before I begin, I would like to congratulate the incoming LRF President.
I am sure you will do a strong job defending the interests of Sweden’s farmers and rural communities.
I look forward to working with you to ensure that Swedish farmers and rural areas get the very best value from the €6.6 billion investment the CAP will make in them up to 2020.
Let me also pay tribute to Thomas Magnusson and the sterling work he is doing as president of Cogeca.
Cooperatives will be absolutely critical in the coming years to maximise the opportunities for farmers on European and global markets, and I count on Thomas to bring his colleagues with him in this work.
Dear friends, we are entering an important period of transition for the CAP, and we need our farmers’ voices to be loud and clear as we set about modernising and simplifying the policy. I look forward to working closely with you and your colleagues in the weeks and months ahead.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay special tribute to Helena Jonsson and her many years of service, both here in Sweden and also in Brussels.
Helena has been a strong and outspoken defender of Swedish farmers and agri-business, and she has adopted a visionary approach when it comes to the CAP and the future of European agriculture. I have read with interest a number of sections from her recent book, and I will refer back to these later.
Before I talk about the CAP and the future possibilities for Swedish farmers, let me give you a political perspective from Brussels. As you will have noticed, the EU has been undergoing a time of both huge difficulty and renewed optimism.
(Brexit – EU Political Outlook)
On the one hand, a Member State has for the first time voted to leave our Union. The Brexit result caused a seismic shock in Brussels.
I know it had a strong impact here in Sweden too, given that the UK is one of Sweden’s most important trading partners – the third largest recipient of Swedish services and the sixth largest recipient of goods.
In response, the Swedish government correctly began to plan for the different outcomes. In September 2016, the Government commissioned the National Board of Trade to analyse and provide alternatives for how trade in services between the EU and the UK can be regulated after a UK withdrawal from the EU and its single market.
I am pleased that this report emphasised the continuing importance of the EU single market for Sweden’s economy, calling for further development and integration so that the remaining EU 27 can benefit and profit from it even further.
Nevertheless, in relation to Brexit many questions remain unanswered, particularly in relation to the future EU budget and of course, the proportion of the budget dedicated to the CAP.
But Brexit has also led to a strong sense of renewal and revitalisation in Brussels. The EU 27 have shown a strong and united front in advance of the Brexit negotiations. In recent months, right-wing populists have failed to win three prominent European elections in a row: in Austria, in the Netherlands, and most recently in France.
And there has been a strong consensus that if the EU wants to prevent another Brexit, we must begin to make an even greater positive impact in the lives of our citizens. We must find better ways to face head-on some of the most pressing challenges of our time: climate change, migration, security, and job creation, to name but a few.
The White Paper published by the Commission in March sets out possible paths for the future of Europe. It offers five scenarios for the Union’s evolution, depending on the choices we make.
And for my part, I want the CAP to be the beating heart of this renewed and revitalised Europe. I have been making the case that a strong and well-funded policy for our food production and rural areas is vital if we are to succeed in renewing the EU.
(Future of CAP)
I passionately believe that if we want to keep a strong, purposeful and adequately funded CAP, we need to do two things:
First of all we need to make the policy work even harder – in collaboration with other EU policies and priorities – to provide public goods for the citizens of Europe.
And second, we need to do a better job of informing our citizens about the work farmers and rural development policies do for the good of all European society.
As Helena makes clear in her book, it is not nearly as well understood as it should be that our farmers and rural areas are working on society’s behalf on multiple fronts. Yes, the policy’s bottom line remains safe and sustainable food production.
But the CAP has evolved to provide people with other vital public goods beyond food – the policy also promotes clean water and air, a well-managed countryside with good living conditions, and the maintenance of our biodiversity for future generations.
It is essential that our farming and rural communities remain strong, vibrant and sustainable, because they are our essential partners for a huge number of every day challenges.
And the incentives provided by the CAP are realistically the only incentives capable of addressing farm income, rural living conditions, the EU’s hugely important environment and climate targets, as well as the survival and development of a sector of vital strategic importance.
The economic viability of the farming sector is a pre-condition not only for the production of high-quality and safe food, but also for the sustainable management of resources (including water) and the provision of environmental public goods.
Agriculture also plays an important role in the circular economy, and the CAP should do its part to support the supply and use of renewable sources of energy, of waste and other by- products for the bio-economy.
Helena makes the point very well in her book that a truly sustainable society takes into account environmental, economic and social sustainability – and my point is quite simply that the CAP already addresses these overlapping challenges in a variety of ways.
In supporting our farmers, we can and indeed already do ask them to do more in terms of their contribution to the priorities of this Commission, our international obligations for climate and environment and other societal goals and objectives, and for that they should be rewarded. If you listen to citizens, their voice is clear: support our farmers and our sustainable, safe and high quality food production.
A modernised, simplified CAP is the best bet for providing strong solutions to all these inter-related challenges.
If we want to make smart adjustments to the CAP, we must constantly ask ourselves if the policy is fit-for-purpose and if it meets the requirements of a modern economic, environmental and social policy.
(Food Chain, Cork 2.0)
We need to reflect on the market events of the past couple of years and consider whether we are equipping farmers with adequate tools to help farmers cope with market volatility. This is why I have taken strong action to improve the position of farmers in the food chain.
In 2016 I established the Agrimarkets Taskforce, and they delivered a strong document containing clear policy recommendations to me last November. I expect to see some of these reflected in the Communication on the Future CAP later this year.
I also want the second pillar of the CAP to do more for our rural communities.
That is why last September the Commission brought together a “Rural Coalition of the Willing” to draft the Cork 2.0 Declaration on the future of EU rural development.
The Cork 2.0 Declaration has triggered a high level of expectations. It has done so because it has put into words what many people have been thinking for years: that when it comes to addressing many of the big challenges of our era, our rural and agricultural communities are part of the solution, not part of the problem!
And our objective is to make sure that EU policies reflect this truth. I think Helena’s book also makes this point very strongly.
I know that Swedish farmers have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. Indeed, I was delighted to visit a mixed agricultural holding earlier today – Wiggeby farm, which produces and also high quality feed for horses.
The farm has a very extensive system for recycling – involving both manure and also bioenergy from forest residues.
And perhaps most impressively, the farm runs on almost 100% green energy.
I firmly believe that smart and sustainable farming also makes good economic sense, because good food means good business. The CAP is today at the root of a vibrant European agri-food sector, which supports upwards of 44 million jobs in the EU – many of them in our rural areas, where these jobs are urgently needed.
And the evidence shows that we can do even more. It is sufficient to look at the performance of agricultural exports to realise the huge potential for further growth and job creation.
Since 2011, our agri-food exports have grown by 29%, outpacing all other sectors.
We are now exporting €131bn of produce – with a surplus of €18.8 billion. This is not just a figure – it is a huge amount of wealth being transferred to rural areas across Europe, in reward for the production of high quality, sustainable produce.
I know that LRF has been working closely with Minister Bucht to develop a National Food Strategy taking account of all these important factors.
I think this is a smart way to proceed. In my own home country of Ireland, we have had great success thanks to a similar policy, and I encourage you to continue down this path.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, we are in the middle of a very important moment for the CAP. The public consultation on modernising and simplifying the policy ended earlier this month. Now we are analysing the results ahead of an important conference in Brussels on July 7th.
As we move forward, we will deliver a Communication on the Future CAP later this year. I am calling on you to bring all your knowledge and energy to this process, not only today but in the years to come. Together, we can build a sustainable food production and rural development policy truly fit for the 21st century. Thank you.