Member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture and rural
Congress of European Farmers 2008 organised by COPA/COGECA
[Ladies and gentlemen],
First I would like to thank you for having invited me to join you today, and for being a little flexible with the programme for this Congress so that I could attend.
I should straight away apologise for the fact that I'll have to be rather brief because of my duties in the Council. To make the most of the available time, I'll speak for just a few minutes and then take questions.
In my job I often feel as if I'm juggling quite a lot of different balls in the air, and now is no exception. By walking from the Council building to the Parliament building, I'm taking a break from the world of the CAP Health Check and entering the world of the CAP after 2013. Of course, these "two" worlds are actually one and the same – but even so, there's certainly a lot of policy discussion going on at the moment!
This is one reason why I'm very grateful for the COPA-COGECA paper with its "Visions for the future of agricultural policy in Europe".
In at least two ways, you and I have the same starting-point for thinking about this future.
First, we agree that (I quote) "the future CAP should, first and foremost, enable farmers to meet EU citizens' aspirations and concerns in the face of the challenges of the 21st century".
Secondly, we agree that we must set objectives for the CAP, not let policy be driven purely by budgetary questions.
If you ever read press articles claiming that I see everything through the spectacles of an accountant, don't believe them. It's true that I often warn about the political pressures which the CAP budget is under. I make no apology for this: we must be realistic. But I also believe that we must set out our stall of ideas in good time, and thereby occupy the key ground in the budget debate.
If we have no idea of what we want to do, no-one will give us the money to do it! On the other hand, if we present some good, clear thinking, and link our ideas to what the public cares about, I really believe we can have a policy which gives farmers the long-term support they need for success and prosperity.
Otherwise, there are many other points in your vision document that I like.
To keep it short, I would like to add some thoughts of my own on just three issues that you raise.
First, the issue of "food independence".
We must be clear that "food independence" is not the only possible road to "food security" – and in the case of the European Union, I don't think it's a road that we should try to take.
Yes, the CAP must help to keep our production base strong, competitive and sustainable. But let's also remember that the European Union is a vigorous agricultural trader. The EU is not only a net importer of agricultural commodities but also a net exporter of agricultural products. France alone, for instance, has a trade surplus in agricultural products of about 7 billion Euros a year. If we expect the rest of the world to be reasonably open to our exports, we must be reasonably open to theirs. And of course, poorer developing countries' exports to us are of huge value to them.
Therefore, for us, food security will continue to be a rope made up of two cords: one cord is domestic production, but the other is trade.
This brings me onto my second point – which concerns the production standards observed outside the European Union.
As you know, any agricultural imports coming into the Union must obey our food safety rules. This is non-negotiable. The latest example here is our ban on Chinese products containing milk in one from or the other. I often hear comments that overseas suppliers should also match our standards in the areas of environmental care, animal welfare or social standards. Because most of them don't do so, European farmers are at a cost disadvantage.
Of course, it would be good news for us if more producers in the world observed all the standards that we do. But unfortunately, to make this ideal a reality, we're going to have to roll a very heavy rock up a very steep hill.
We've tried extremely hard in the Doha Round to make "non-trade concerns" a part of any new agricultural trade agreement, but the resistance has been fierce. So for the time being, we have no legal powers to insist that agricultural imports were produced according to our environmental and animal welfare standards. We'll keep arguing our case on this issue, but don't expect the problem to solve itself tomorrow.
That's why I still see the Single Payment Scheme as a part of our future policy, but certainly targeted in a different way than today.
This brings me onto my third point.
Your vision document expresses concerns about the effects of decoupling. But I have to say that I'm basically very positive about decoupling – and many farmers have told me that they are too. They have really appreciated the freedom that decoupling has given them. Decoupled payments are also a very effective and efficient shield against price volatility, and they fit into the WTO's Green Box of non-trade-distorting domestic support.
On the other hand, decoupling is not an "article of faith" for me. The Commission's impact analysis for the Health Check has suggested that there are some regions where moving to full decoupling could bring more costs than gains. This is why I've proposed that Member States should still have the option of keeping the current level of coupling for the suckler cow premium and the sheep and goat premium.
But overall, I think decoupling has taken us in the right direction – a helpful direction for farmers – and decoupled payments have been a good complement to other policy tools in the CAP. Having made good progress down that path, we should not now retrace our steps.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this brings me to the end of my short intervention, but I would like to stress that today's discussion is only the starting point of a hopefully fruitful dialogue with you on the future of the CAP.
I have already also my own ideas, which I will share with you once the Health Check is done. That is the moment when we will have the time to further develop and deepen our discussions on the future of European agriculture.
However, before I have to go back to the Council I still have some minutes to take some questions.