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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

The future CAP must be green

The 4th Forum of the Future of Agriculture

Brussels, 15 March 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for inviting me to the forum again.

I know that my colleague Commissioner Cioloş has already set out the CAP reform approach in the earlier debate…so I will not try to 'tread' on his words.

I have spoken many times about the importance of agriculture and forestry for the environment. The reason for this is quite simple: combined, farmers and foresters in Europe manage three quarters of our land use. This means that the way they manage their land is crucial for the health of soils, for protecting water or biodiversity as well as for achieving climate change objectives. Farming can benefit our environment enormously… if things go wrong, however, the potential for causing problems is just as large.

The direction of successive CAP reforms since the 1990s has been positive for the environment. The hand of former Commissioner Franz Fischler is still visible, in the conference today, but also in the current shape of the CAP. He has given us a legacy on which we can and must build.

Let me share with you where I stand on the future CAP: The future CAP will need to respond to expectations on the redistribution of direct payments, on reinforcing agricultural competitiveness and rural development. However, meeting these expectations only would clearly not be sufficient.

It is essential that the future CAP contributes the public goods we need to meet the environmental and climate challenges we are facing today. I do not see how the amount of public funds spent on agriculture can be legitimised unless the future CAP makes a significant contribution to reaching the EU's environmental and climate targets. We must tackle these challenges today to avoid much bigger problems in the future. I strongly believe that "prevention is better than cure". If there is a CAP in the future, it must be green. And we must not only sanction farmers who do not respect environmental rules, we must also reward those who do provide environmental public goods, because the market does not reward them for that.

I see the essentials of CAP reform from an environmental perspective as follows:

  • There must be a substantive further greening of direct payments under the first pillar. This should be done by dedicating a share of the payments to a set of environmental actions that farmers would be required to do across the EU territory;

  • Rural development must be further strengthened with a sufficient number of relevant measures and sufficient funding to deliver on those measures;

  • Cross compliance must be enhanced and simplified.

In addition, there needs to be enough knowledge and ambition at the programming and implementation level in Member States to ensure delivery of real environmental advances. This will involve a lot of dedicated work from us all.

The greening of first pillar payments is particularly important given the broad territorial coverage of the measures. It will set a baseline of minimum requirements for farmers everywhere, with Europe rewarding them for taking identified measures because it matters for all in the EU. A substantive greening of the first pillar will facilitate the introduction of more ambitious environmental measures in Rural Development that focus on environmental and climate-related improvements further beyond the legal baseline. So we must work on the first as well as the second pillar.

Take the example of biodiversity. Science tells us we could be in the middle of a period of mass extinction triggered by human pressure on species and ecosystems. In March last year, EU heads of state and government took on a commitment to halting biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystems in Europe by 2020, and to restore them as far as possible by that date. Achieving these targets will require the full implementation of the EU's Natura 2000 network. It will also need a significant contribution by the major land managers outside protected areas: that means farmers.

I am currently discussing with my colleague Commissioner Cioloş how certain practices such as maintenance of permanent pasture, land set aside, crop diversification or green cover in the greening components of direct payments might be included. Permanent pasture has obvious benefits for biodiversity and for maintaining carbon in soils. Ecological set-aside would benefit biodiversity. However, it should also form the basis of green corridors which will become enormously important in dealing with the impact of climate change and reinforcing the resilience of our ecosystems.

A further example is soil. Healthy soils are an essential resource for productive agricultural systems. Soils are also the biggest land store of carbon. Yet the mechanisation of our farming systems, the specialisation of production and the simplification of management have not only increased food production and brought prices down; they have also put us on a path of gradual soil degradation. It is therefore crucial that Europe faces the challenge of soil protection. The future CAP is an important tool for meeting this challenge. First pillar payments stimulating maintenance of green cover would help prevent soil erosion; whereas crop rotation requirements would help preserve the quality and productivity of soil. Rural development programmes should offer further opportunities for tackling specific soil degradation issues.

Achieving an effective EU policy on soils will not only be good for Europe. It will also send the right signals to our international partners in the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation, where the current stalemate in discussions on soil at EU level is seen as a message that we don't really care.

Another important example is water. Agriculture is the biggest user of water and plays a key role in maintaining water quality. In 2012, Member States will have to transpose key elements of the EU Water Framework Directive. I am therefore discussing with my colleague Commissioner Cioloş, which elements of the Water Framework Directive to include in the future cross-compliance system. Again, this is an issue where there are strong synergies between environment and climate objectives, particular considering the challenges of climate adaptation. Member States will have to achieve certain water standards by EU law. I believe it is good policy to reward farmers for the good management of water rather than having to sanction them later for not having done so.

On forests I believe that we have made good progress both within the EU and internationally. In October last year, Council and Parliament adopted the EU timber regulation, which will take effect in March 2013. From then, it will not be possible to place illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber on the EU market. Last year's green paper on forest protection and climate change has taught us that Member States and stakeholders alike want improved information about forests and forest management; especially as biodiversity, climate and energy issues place greater and greater demands on our forests. It is important that CAP rural development money remains available to help foresters cope with these challenges.

I have given you some examples of how the future CAP should contribute to meeting environmental and climate related targets. I want to add one important additional point here. It relates to simplification: farmers and Member States alike underline the need for a simpler CAP, in particular for streamlining and simplifying cross compliance rules. I agree with these calls and with the need for finding an appropriate balance between public policy objectives and administrative burden. However, I obviously do not subscribe to calls for "simplification" that are really a demand for "no regulation" and "no control". As I said in the beginning: I do not see how the amount of public funds spent on agriculture can be legitimised unless the European taxpayer knows that the future CAP will make a significant contribution to reaching the EU's environmental and climate targets and will provide environmental services such as biodiversity protection, flood prevention, fire prevention etc. In other words, a CAP that makes agriculture competitive and sustainable not only today, but also in the future. For our farmers, and their children.

I would want to look beyond the CAP reform debate to the issue of resource efficiency, since some elements of what we are discussing there directly relate to the topic of this session.

You will know that the Commission launched an EU 2020 flagship on resource efficiency in January this year. We are now working hard on a resource efficiency roadmap through which we aim to make some sense of the global explosion in resource use over the last decades, while trying to help business, agriculture, governments and people come to terms with resource scarcity and the value of ALL of our resources.

This will obviously have consequences for farming, where resources occupy a centrally important position in your day-to-day lives. The prediction of a world population of 9 billion people by 2050 is something that agriculture in particular has to face. We cannot assume a never ending supply of fertilizers, for example, or enough land to guarantee it will deliver everything we are asking it to deliver.

On fertilizers, I have asked my services to pay particular attention to Phosphorus. This isn't because there is a phosphorus shortage now, but because it is such a vital element and some reports suggest the possibility of shortages in a few decades time. We need to get the issues out in the open NOW and begin a debate with all stakeholders on the best way forward. We need to look how we use phosphorous and dispose of it, to ensure a long term global supply. If we start by thinking like this, we avoid the kinds of problems seen so starkly with the climate change debate.

On land issues generally, competing demands for food, bio energy and bio-resources for industry present a new challenge. Not because these three demands haven't existed in the past. Wood used for heating, flax and wool for clothing and straw for housing are vivid examples from the past. It is the increased pressure across all these sectors that causes concern. Again, it is important that we debate these issues openly now to avoid an intensely difficult future. You will recall that food prices have had a role in popular uprisings in recent years.

Our resource efficiency debate – which I consider the most important in terms of our attempt to make our economy, prosperous, sustainable and environmentally friendly - will address this issue, among many others.

* * *

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is clear the agri-environmental agenda is broad and goes beyond the CAP debate, but it is highly relevant. I would not be here if it were not.

The work of the past decade or so gives a platform for the enrichment of that agri-environmental relationship – and a path towards a common good. But it does something else as well. It opens a wider door – perhaps to a world of future scarcity and global insecurity in which we can sustain prosperity and a decent quality of life. And it is to this issue we have to devote much of our energies.

I am glad that there are places – like today's event – where these energies can be put to good use.

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