Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture and Rural
Europäischer Bauerntag (Copa event)
[Chairman, State Secretary, ladies and gentlemen],
It's my pleasure to be here – if only for a few minutes – and to echo the chairman's welcome to you all at this event on "co-operation between agriculture and environmental protection".
In some contexts, I find I have to emphasise again and again to the public that such co-operation between agriculture and environmental protection is certainly not a distant dream: it's a daily reality, and one which is receiving increasing support from policy.
When we talk about "agriculture" and "environmental protection", I think some members of the public have in their head an image of a tug-of-war contest.
According to this image, on one end of the rope, we have environmentalists pulling hard, asking farmers to "do more" for the environment. And on the other end, the farmers are supposedly digging their heels in, saying that they already have to do far too much.
In reply to this, straight away I would say that at a very basic level, farmers always have to co-operate with the land: otherwise, the land may not co-operate with them, and this can cause a few problems for growing crops!
But beyond this, if we look at the level of policy, we're all very often pulling the rope in more or less the same direction.
Look at what has happened to the Common Agriculture Policy in recent times.
A few years ago, it would have been politically unthinkable to link farmers' direct payments to environmental standards – as we now do through cross-compliance.
But cross-compliance is here; it applies to 100 per cent of direct payments; and direct payments should make up around 90 per cent of the "first pillar" of the CAP by 2013. That's a lot of money that now depends on keeping fields and waterways clean, among other things.
Then there's our rural development policy.
As I have said many times, I think this deserved to get stronger financial backing for the period 2007 to 2013 than it finally got from heads of state and government.
Nevertheless, € 88 billion within the European Union budget is a substantial sum. And of the total funding available for rural development over this period, around 46 per cent is being spent on "axis 2" of our rural development menu – so, measures related mainly to the environment.
This money is being spent on real projects that are getting real results. I've seen some of them at first hand. And I've been particularly interested in some of the more inventive projects carried out with a Leader-type approach.
As you hear me say these things, don't accuse me of complacency – because I'm only too aware that there's so much more to do for the environment. But let's at least give ourselves a small pat on the back for the progress that we've already made. It's important.
As you know, the next big step for the CAP is the Health Check, which I launched last November. Within the Health Check, the environment certainly occupies an important place.
Among other things, we're continuing our work of fine-tuning cross-compliance. This must deliver on its goals – which means it must work in practice. I think we're making good progress in this area.
The Health Check exercise is also taking a close look at climate change, water management and biodiversity.
Unfortunately, it's not within my power to pull magical solutions to these issues out of a hat. And even in terms of what we can realistically aim to achieve, the policy issues involved reach well beyond agriculture.
Nevertheless, agriculture and the CAP clearly have their part to play – in fighting climate change and adapting to it, in managing water more efficiently, and in preserving the wealth of plants and animals with which we're blessed in Europe.
We're also reviewing our section of European policy on bioenergy, to make sure that it really does contribute in a sustainable way to environmental care and energy security.
In summary, as you can seen co-operation between agriculture and environmental protection is happening every day. We may all have our differences from time to time, but we're not playing a zero-sum game: we all have something to gain by looking after the earth that gives us our food and air – and a lot to lose if we treat it badly.
So let's get on with pulling that rope in the same direction!