Other available languages: none
Dr. Franz FISCHLER
Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries
Together to a Common Europe
Central Euyropean Journalists Forum
Warsaw, 12 September 2002
Ministers, ladies and gentlemen of the press, fellow democrats,
Let me begin by saying how pleased I am to be talking to you all here in Warsaw today in what is the run up to the biggest enlargement process the European Union will have seen to date. I would also like to salute the work of the Institute for Democracy In Eastern Europe which has organised this conference and whose historic aim of promoting democracy in Central and Eastern Europe is one which is close to my heart. The choice of Warsaw is significant in symbolic terms, as it was in Poland that the move towards democratisation in Eastern and Central Europe began and from Poland that it spread like a wind of change through the neighbouring European countries and into the Soviet Union itself.
I am glad to be able to participate in a conference which I know will not be just an isolated meeting of like-minded thinkers but one which has the aim of laying the foundation for future co-operation between journalists in Central and Eastern Europe as we face, together, the challenges of operating in the new structures of the enlarged EU. Information is the most important tool for bringing about understanding between peoples and for promoting our common future, a future which will see the men and women of our countries working together to bring about the economic benefits which derive from being part of a 500 million strong community which can trade freely within open frontiers.
Together To A Common Europe
As you know, I was myself very much involved in the negotiations of my own country, Austria, in the last enlargement of the EU. I have experienced the integration process, from within the Commission, as Commissioner responsible for Agriculture and Rural Development as well as for Fisheries. These are policies that are still central to the EU in both political and budgetary terms as well as being important elements in our common European future.
There is always a learning process both before and after an accession. In fact, I am still learning every day about the priorities and sensibilities of colleagues in the Commission as well as the different ways issues are treated in different member states. What impresses me most, however, is the wealth of common ideas, traditions and values as well as the common ambitions we share as Europeans living in a rapidly changing world. For this reason, it is for me unthinkable that a very large part of geographic Europe should remain, for much longer, outside what has become the political motor of the one of the world's most advanced economies. It is our task to prepare the way for a democratic coming together of our nations and of our peoples. Our nations and peoples have been kept apart for too long by the events which dominated much of the last century and which we hope never to have to live through again.
Now, of course, there are new fears: fears of the unknown. For example, farmers in the EU-15 and in the candidate countries are worried that enlargement will leave them worse off. It is my role as a politician and yours, as journalists, to allay those fears where they are groundless and, where there are real problems, to speak about them so that solutions can be found. I know, from my own past experience, how important dialogue can be at all levels if we are to understand each other and to appreciate how much we have to gain by working together in an open and frank way. The recent severe weather conditions, which have brought flooding to large parts of Europe, have proved to us once again that we share common problems and that we must help each in times of difficulty.
The European Union is setting up a disaster fund which can provide some help with the rebuilding of devastated cities and villages and pre-accession funds that have not yet been allocated will be re-allocated to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This is something which is right and proper. Europeans should work together and help each other and not only when times are hard, but all the time
Looking at the EU from my privileged position as a member of the Commission and as the Commission's representative in the Agriculture and Fisheries Councils of Ministers, I see democracy at work at the highest levels: I am able to witness the process by which 15 independent countries come to common decisions on matters which are often politically and economically sensitive for the individual member state. I see that compromises are possible, and, time and again, decisions are made which benefit the people of the EU as a whole, decisions in which solidarity between states overrides individual national interest.
Also, as member of the Commission responsible for Rural Development Policy and Quality Policy, I see many decisions that come up to Brussels from the regional and local level. Subsidiarity, by which there is a sharing of initiatives and financing, means that the real needs of local rural communities can be catered for. This bottom-up approach to deciding how the taxpayer's money is spent, is one that I favour very much. Empowering the people who live and work in the heart of our countryside and encouraging them to come up with worthwhile initiatives is the underlying reason for my proposal to reinforce what we refer to as the «second pillar of the CAP»: Rural Development policy. It is all part of the move, in my area of responsibility, to get away from directionist product related subsidies and create new opportunities for people to come up with their own ideas. The LEADER programmes which finance local projects throughout the EU-15 are a fine example of this as they hand over the initiative to the "grass roots" of life in the countryside: local groups of men and women working in the rural areas of Europe. I believe that, if we are to move successfully towards a common Europe, it is this kind of approach which should be encouraged rather than the philosophy of the «state hand out» which typified both the old CAP and the former farming and food policies of Central and Eastern Europe.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Agriculture and Rural Development policy has an important role to play in the enlarged EU. This year the Commission has made proposals for candidate countries that include specific measures for agriculture within a ten-year transition period. Changes are proposed to make it easier for farmers in new member states to adjust to the market rather than being tied by centrally determined production incentives. We propose a simplified scheme for direct payments to all farmers but we also want to give specific help to those farmers who want to switch from subsistence to market production. We have proposed a specific measure for these farmers which, when fully applied to a fifteen hectare farm, would double aid available to farmers concerned in 2006 to around 2/3 of the normal aid level. The gradual introduction of direct payments will ensure that there will not be a two speed CAP and that the necessary structural changes which are already being made in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will not be undermined. Larger, commercial farmers will, of course, be able to take advantage of improved market opportunities as well as price increases. Now you have trade barriers between your countries. In the future you will not only have access to the markets of the existing EU-15 and vice-versa, but also to your neighbours who will be part of the new enlarged union.
We have also proposed an enhanced rural development package that will offer considerable opportunities for farmers in candidate countries to improve their income via compensatory allowances, agri-environmental aids, and early retirement measures. The normal EU funding rate of 75% has been raised to 80% so that new member states will be more able to match EU funds with national money. We will help your farmers and food industries to put in place food quality and safety measures that will build up consumer confidence so that your products can find their place in the enlarged EU market. For example, through the support offered by our pre-accession programmes, we are able to help you invest in new dairy and slaughter facilities, which, in turn, will enable you to meet these new and higher international standards.
The Commission has also adopted a paper on the future of the CAP in EU-15 which reviews the current state of affairs and which outlines measures designed to make European agriculture sustainable and to provide a positive response to the demands of our citizens and consumers. The criticisms of the CAP, in recent years, are a sign of the widening gap between the farm lobby and civil society. Following the BSE crisis and other food scares, consumers, at the end of the last century, were losing confidence in the authorities' ability to control and in farming practices. The European press was in the forefront when it came to making this disquiet known. So, we have responded. Democracy begins with politicians and institutions listening to the voices of the people. In post-war Europe the demands were for security of food supply and self-sufficiency. Today, in the area for which I am responsible the voices of the people are asking for:
These voices are also telling us that our citizens should have choice. This includes choice for consumers to pay more for products of a specific quality but also choice for our farmers who are businessmen and should be able to make their business decisions without the oppressive influence of public measures which distort markets and which have, in the past, led to unwanted surpluses and unacceptable production methods. Quality products should be available and properly identified so that consumers can trace them back to their origins and understand what differentiates them from standard products. Equally, farmers who invest in quality should be able to reap the rewards of their efforts on the market.
Our three main objectives for agriculture and the rural community are, therefore,
To achieve this, we have defined a number of policy elements which, while they are not a total break with the past, take recent CAP reforms such as the Mac Sharry Reform of 1992 and Agenda 2000 several large steps further. The Commission proposes
Underlying these proposals are a stable budget for European Agriculture including a more socially acceptable balance of support between market policies and rural development, a move to a more sustainable agriculture, ensuring that farmers can benefit from growing markets and that consumer demand can be satisfied, including consumer demand for quality products, the integration of citizens' ethical concerns such as safeguarding the environment and animal welfare into the CAP, and, last but not least, a simplification of the policy and less unnecessary "red tape" for farmers and all concerned.
I am confident that, when the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament approve the Commission's proposals, we will have a very solid foundation for agriculture and rural policy, not only for the EU-15 but also for the new members of the EU. With a CAP which respects the needs and demands of today's society, we can move ahead together into the 21st century and benefit from the advantages of an enlarged EU market of some 500 million consumers as well as from the challenges of a far more open world market.
Later this year, at the Copenhagen Summit, we should be in a position to conclude the negotiations with the candidate countries. Before this, the EU member states must reach an agreement, at the latest in early November, on the overall financing of the enlarged EU and, in particular, on agriculture and regional policy. As part of the preparation for enlargement, the Commission is examining the working of the EU institutions. It is, in my opinion, important that we do not move towards looser intergovernmental ties but that we continue with the current "community" system of decision making which provides the best way of answering citizens' concerns and ensuring their security and quality of life.
As I already said, although the nations of Europe have been in dispute, in the past, over questions of ideology or territorial ambitions, we are, now, in the first years of a new century and we are moving towards a new era of shared ambitions and challenges. As I talk to here, in Poland, I am acutely aware of the many values and traditions which we share and which will unite us in the context of a new enlarged EU which respects the liberties and rights of European peoples.
Many of these traditions and values are apparent in the sector for which I am responsible, in, for example the breathtaking landscapes of many European regions, fashioned by centuries of agricultural knowledge, and in the traditional, local and regional products of which we are justly proud. Once more, I salute the work of the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe as it is, in my opinion, only under a democratic system that all citizens can properly enjoy the fruits of their own enterprise and benefit fully from their shared cultural heritage. I encourage all of you, as members of the press and media, to take this message to your readers, listeners and viewers throughout Central and Eastern Europe, so that they can justly appreciate the great political, economic and cultural benefits which will accrue from democracies, new and old, working together in the common interest towards a common Europe.