Mariann Fischer Boel
Member of the European Commission responsible for agriculture and rural
Challenges for the plant
International Plant Exhibition
Essen, 29th January 2009
[Ladies and gentlemen],
It's a great pleasure to be here and to be enjoying all the colour and the variety of the International Plant Exhibition.
Around Europe and probably around much of the rest of the world, we know the old proverb which tells us to "say it with flowers".
This is excellent advice. In fact, I'd like to see it put it into practice more often in some of the long and difficult policy negotiations which form part of my work – because in many of these discussions, there really is a lot of talk!
Flowers and plants really do have a strong hold on our imagination.
Today we've seen that wonderful parade illustrating some of the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen.
I like the story of Tommelise – or Thumbelina as she's called in English. In that story, a woman plants a magic seed, and when it grows, tiny Tommelise steps out of the flower. She has lots of adventures. A mole wants to marry her, but in the end she marries a fairy prince. (Obviously, good things come to those who wait!)
And of course it's not just in literature that flowers are important symbols. We use them to mark very emotional experiences in our lives – like love and death.
On a more day-to-day level, they also help us to feel more human and comfortable in our surroundings.
If you walk into some of the offices of the European Commission, it can be like walking into a jungle. I have colleagues who manage to fit about eight or nine spider-plants along their window-sill – and they claim that they can't be happy at work without them!
Of course, flowers and plants would not be able to have such an influence in our lives if the industry didn't produce them so successfully.
And what a successful industry!
If I can focus on Europe for a moment: It's a striking fact that the European sector accounts for nearly half of global production of flowers and pot plants. With an annual export value of some € 1.5 billion (that's for exports outside the European Union), clearly, business is flourishing.
And of course there are other success stories from around the world.
But like most sectors, the plant sector is facing challenges every day.
First, there's the challenge of innovation.
Customers' needs are organic rather than static – rather like a plant, in fact. The sector has to show organic, flexible thinking to keep up with these changing needs – and even to anticipate them.
I'm told that quite a few economic textbooks have taken parts of the European flower sector as examples of how to succeed. These textbooks describe how the most successful parts of the industry have not been those which had access to the cheapest labour or the most plentiful natural resources, but rather those which kept introducing new ideas and techniques.
Horticulture at its most profitable is a high-tech industry based on sophisticated products, sophisticated equipment and very well-functioning distribution systems.
So I'm glad to see that the spirit of imagination and innovation is alive and well.
Secondly, there's the challenge of doing business in line with the needs of the environment.
"Global warming" is not the name of a manufacturer of storage heaters. It's a harsh reality that we must get to grips with now – otherwise our children will pick up the bill, and they almost certainly won't be able to pay it.
The European Union has committed itself to cutting its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 per cent by the year 2020. Our target will actually be a cut of 30 per cent if we can achieve a new international agreement on global warming.
This will need a huge overall effort – and horticulture certainly has its part to play.
I've seen some very encouraging things in this respect – for example, greenhouses which use geothermal heat to keep the right temperature inside. And in some countries in particular, the horticulture sector has scored top marks in cutting its energy usage and its greenhouse gas emissions.
As a politician, I find that people bring long lists of problems to me every day. None of these come from the horticulture sector! You get on with your business quietly and successfully.
Nevertheless, I hope you feel that European Union policy is giving you the support that you need.
Among other things, we've worked cut red tape in the agricultural and horticultural sectors. We've abolished centralised quality standards for flowers and various other plants, to make trade easier. (These standards regulate things like the size of bulbs, for example.) We've also made a big effort to make various rules easier to understand and comply with.
Overall, let me just say: It's great to see the horticultural sector in such great shape, even in a situation where we're facing financial difficulties.
Keep up the good work. You may not have invented "magic seeds" like the one in the story of Tommelise, but you're succeeding in a way which is almost magical. Long may this success continue!
 The Dutch "part" – but perhaps we should not mention this....