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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries

Let Europe grow!   Agriculture and the enlargement of the European Union

COMECE Seminar for Bishops from Central and Eastern Europe

Brussels, 4 February 2002

My Lord Bishop Hohmeyer,

Your Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I welcome you very warmly to Brussels and am glad that it has been possible to organise today's seminar on enlargement and the common agricultural policy. The timing could not have been better, because, as you know, last Wednesday the Commission presented its ideas on agricultural and structural policy and how enlargement is to be funded.

The reactions have been very varied. For some people, the Commission's proposals do not go far enough, for others they go too far. I myself think the proposals are sound, because they focus on balance between the old and the new Member States.

But the reactions also show that many people have rejected the proposals without even bothering to find out what is in them. And there is a growing risk that the enlargement project as a whole could suffer as a result of squabbling over a million euros here and a million euros there.

Pope John Paul II has said that enlargement can only work properly if we succeed in building a culture and an ethic of unity. But to achieve that, it is also essential for the major forces in society to make their contribution. That is another reason to be thankful for the fact that this seminar is being held.

  • I would first like to outline a few of my ideas on European integration and why it is so important for our shared future.

  • Then, of course, I must say a few words on the area I am directly responsible for. I will try to answer two questions:

    • What is the role of agriculture and agricultural policy in our society?

    • What course should the enlargement process in the agricultural sector take and how can we help rural areas along on the way to Europe?

The fifth chapter of "Gaudium et Spes" contains the following important sentence:

"Peace is not merely the absence of war; nor can it be reduced solely to the maintenance of a balance of power between enemies". How, then, can peace be achieved? Gaudium et spes gives an answer: "This peace on earth cannot be obtained unless personal well-being is safeguarded and men freely and trustingly share with one another the riches of their inner spirits and their talents".

In principle, that is exactly what inspired Schuman, Adenauer, De Gasperi and the other founding fathers when they first created the Community of Six, from the very beginning with the idea that sooner or later the project would culminate in European integration. It was clear that Europeans needed a new outlook to ensure lasting peace. They therefore took the ambitious decision to put cooperation between the peoples of Europe on a new footing. The new Europe was not to be based on a balance of powers, but on pooling the forces of prosperity, security and peace.

The revolutionary and completely new idea was to erase the dividing lines separating the sovereignty of the individual Member States and to pool specific parts of that sovereignty. The first area to be tackled was coal and steel, i.e. the sector producing arms and tanks. The next step was joint management of radioactive material under the Euratom Treaty.

This was followed by the introduction of a common market governed by uniform rules with the aim of creating shared prosperity. This enormous project has now also almost been completed, as is obvious to everyone, at least from 1 January onwards, now that we all have the same money in our pockets.

However, to ensure really sustainable unity in Europe that is also shared by its citizens, it is not enough just to produce economic results. If the Community is to last, we must build a "Europe of the spirit", in the words of Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, or give Europe a soul, as President Delors put it. I am pleased that you are also making your own very special contribution to this Europe of the spirit. Two years ago the Pope proclaimed three new Co-Patronesses to take their place next to the traditional Patron of Europe, Saint Benedict, [Catherine of Siena, Bridget of Sweden and Edith Stein]. In the proclamation, John Paul II rightly said: "In order to build the new Europe on solid foundations it is certainly not enough to appeal to economic interests alone (…). Rather there is a need to act on the basis of authentic values".

There has been much debate on these European values over the last few years, and hopefully they will eventually become legally binding principles enshrined in the Community Treaties:

  • Respect for individual freedom and human rights and dignity;

  • Democracy and the rule of law;

  • Tolerance of our fellow human beings;

  • And, in particular, solidarity.

These are the foundation on which we can continue to build a solid Europe.

One of the Community's main achievements has been its role as a "solidarity mechanism".

    At €23.7 billion, the EU provides 50% of all the world's development aid, and we import more agricultural produce from the developing countries than the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia and New Zealand put together.

    Under regional policy, which accounts for about one third of the Community budget, we are distributing our wealth and targeting assistance at the poorer regions of the European Union. That will also be one of the main topics at the European Summit in Barcelona.

    But solidarity is also evident in one of the sectors under my responsibility, i.e. rural areas.

This brings me to the answer to the question: "What is the role of agriculture and agricultural policy in our society?"

When the EU was founded, hunger was still a widespread phenomenon. After the war, Europe was dependent on food aid, and the foremost aim of the common agricultural policy was therefore to ensure adequate food supply. To achieve that, financial aid was used to boost production and high prices guaranteed sufficient income for farmers. And, to enable Community farmers to be competitive on world markets, export subsidies were introduced. The success of all these measures soon became apparent: as early as 1973, the EU countries were self-sufficient in practically all major agricultural products.

But success had its price: eventually these measures led to production outstripping demand. Farmers were producing more and more regardless of how much the market could absorb. Cereal and meat mountains grew and reform became increasingly necessary. But it was not until 1992 that the first substantial reforms were introduced, to be completed, in 1999, with Agenda 2000. The effect of these reforms is easiest to gauge from the fact that in 1991, 91% of our farm budget was spent on storage and exports, whereas today, after the reforms, that figure is only 28%. As a result of this dramatic transformation, Community farmers have now also become more competitive both on domestic and international markets.

At the same time, we were thinking about how to offset the losses of income faced by farmers. This led us to introduce direct payments, which now take up 62% of our agriculture budget. Direct payments have the advantage that they do not create artificial incentives to produce more, on the contrary: such payments can only work if steps are taken first to discourage overproduction.

And yet, there is more. Since the founding of the European Union, the needs of society have continuously evolved, and will continue to evolve. If we want our policy to be a success, we have to change it to meet these changed needs. Today's public not only want adequate supplies of food, they also have certain expectations about how this food is produced. They want farmers to produce in a sustainable way, i.e. to operate in a way that preserves the quality of the environment for future generations.

The public would also like to be reassured that the familiar countryside which they know and love and where they can find leisure and recreation is not going to disappear. Whether you take the coastal plains of the Netherlands, or the Alps or the Masurian Lakes: the farmed landscapes in which we live are an important part of our identity and farmers play an essential part in the upkeep of these landscapes.

As you see, society has a number of expectations directed at our farmers, and a modern agriculture policy has to help fulfil them. It will not be enough to rely on the kind of measures we have taken to date. So we have amplified our traditional agriculture policy to include a completely new dimension, namely rural development.

What does rural development actually mean? I can give you a few examples.

Let us take protecting the environment. The public wants farming to preserve and maintain the environment and the countryside. But farming in a nature-friendly way means that farmers have both greater overheads and more work to do. Rural development policy enables us to cover these extra costs and support the extra work involved financially. This becomes particularly clear in our approach to promoting organic farming.

Here is a second example: I come from the Tyrol, a province entirely consisting of mountainous areas. This region would be completely uninhabitable if it were not for the farmers who look after the alpine pastures and forests by their work. Of course these farmers cannot produce as efficiently as large-scale farmers on the plains. So that these farmers can continue to perform their vital role, we are helping them through rural development projects.

A third example: young entrants to farming. Everyone knows that taking over the running of a farm requires start-up capital. We can provide that through our rural development policy.

But if we want to stop rural areas from becoming depopulated, it is not enough to concentrate only on agriculture. On average across the Union, only about 4.5% of the population works in agriculture. Through rural development, we are promoting jobs outside agriculture, for instance by supporting infrastructure, education and training facilities, alternative types of employment, the development of tourism and much more besides.

Of course, the basic task of agriculture is still the production of food. If we want to go on enjoying the unmistakable products of our European farmers, if we want to halt the drift from the land and the return of the countryside to the wild, then we also have to support the extra services our farmers provide. Currently we are spending 10% of our agriculture budget on this. This is a good start, but far from enough. I am determined to reinforce rural development even more in future.

Our reforms of agriculture are an on-going process, not a one-off effort. We must continue to keep up with our changing world. The next opportunity comes this year when, around the middle of the year, we will be reviewing the Agenda 2000 measures and making the necessary adjustments. Then we will also be able to see how we can expand the rural development policy further.

What applies to present agriculture policy also applies to enlargement: it is our earnest wish and intention to help the new Member States to maintain an attractive and dynamic rural sector. The real issue is how to give farmers and rural communities in central and eastern Europe hope for the future. This is the true goal we are pursuing with the further integration of Europe.

It is quite clear that just copying the EU's existing agricultural policy 1:1 onto the candidate countries is not the answer. The starting positions are much too varied for this to work. Instead, we need to examine the different circumstances and ask ourselves what solutions are appropriate in order to bring the rural areas of the candidate countries up to a comparable standard.

What our proposals are capable of achieving is shown by looking at the probable budget: we would create a situation in which, in the first year after accession in the candidate countries, nearly half of the budget, i.e. € 1.5 billion, would be spent on rural development. We would be spending more, in fact, on rural development than on direct payments. This is exactly what the rural areas in the candidate countries need: investment in the future and not subsidies which will cement existing structures. In this respect, our negotiating proposals are a definite contribution to a better future in the countryside.

However, one thing is clear: no matter how the enlargement negotiations work out in the end, the Union can only make a contribution towards the future of the rural areas. It is the people in these regions who will make that future happen through their own plans, ideas and efforts. It is the people on the ground who will breathe life into our support programmes, and I know that the people of central and eastern Europe can do it.

Enlargement is about much more than transferring financial resources or expanding trade. The Pope pointed out three years ago the special role that we Christians can play in this project when he said, "In the building up of Europe, Christians have a duty to make a specific contribution (...) Thus may Europe grow! May it grow as a Europe of the spirit, in continuity with the best of its history..."

Let us remember this appeal of his when the enlargement preparations seem to be getting entangled in details. Let us work together on an intelligent and forward-looking policy which will bring us nearer to our goal of a single, shared and peaceful Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

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