Food and farming is an inherent part of what life in Europe is all about. Our agricultural traditions, our emblematic food products, the patchwork of fields and farms that even now still make up huge swathes of the European countryside - all of these define in many ways what Europe is about. But farming is not just about tradition - it’s about our future as well. Without farmers, there is no food. Without decent prospects for the next generation of young farmers, there could be no farms.
That's one of the reasons why the Common Agricultural Policy has been supporting European farmers since 1962, and why it has continued to evolve and adapt to the changes and challenges that farmers and rural communities have faced. The most recent evolution of the policy came in 2013, but such is today's world that circumstances have changed so much since then that there is a need for another look at whether the CAP is working as well as it should.
So today I launched a public consultation on the future of food and farming in the EU, inviting farmers, food producers, environmentalists, rural communities and indeed anyone who has an interest in the way we produce our food to have their say.
It's clear that the 2013 reboot of the CAP has not been able to respond as we had hoped to the ever-changing circumstances, not least because it was made overly complex as a result of the political negotiations with the European Parliament and national governments. Hence the need for a simpler CAP that is more streamlined and less bureaucratic and responds more effectively to demands of the people it is there to serve rather than policymakers.
But the CAP needs to be brought up-to-date as well - the EU has new international commitments on tackling climate change and promoting sustainable development that have to be met, and the food and farming sector is a key player in helping us achieve these goals. So we have to look at how the policy can be modernised to make this easier and more rewarding for farmers.
The consultation I've launched today of course focuses on farmers and rural communities as the parts of society most affected by the CAP - but the policy affects the lives of every European and I want anyone - regardless of whether they live in towns or the countryside - to have their say. A simple questionnaire with 33 questions will be available in all EU languages, and the results will help guide the European Commission's thinking as we set out new proposals for modernising and simplifying the CAP after 2020.
I've always believed it's important to listen to what people on the frontline have to say about this policy which affects so much of their lives, and the consultation is just the latest step in this continuous process of listening and sharing. Last September the Cork 2.0. Conference on Rural Development set out a new vision for the future of rural areas as well as recommendations for how to implement it, while in December 500 stakeholders from across the agri-food sector came together at the EU Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels to share their experience on the evolution of agricultural markets and pinpoint future policy priorities. Also in December last year, 72 representatives from farming associations, the food industry, traders and environmental NGOs to discussed the future CAP at our Civil Dialogue Group on the CAP, while the Agricultural Markets Taskforce I created last year has already produced detailed policy options for strengthening the position of farmers in the EU food chain.
I hope that the public consultation - which will run for 12 weeks until 2 May - will bring further insight, and help us build a comprehensive picture of the state of EU food and farming in order to better propose future methods to make it simpler, more modern, more effective and - in as much as this is possible in today's fast-changing world - future-proof.
The CAP already delivers major benefits for all the people of Europe; listening and learning from you, I am confident it can deliver even more. I look forward to seeing what you think - you have 12 weeks starting from today!
Press conference, launch of the public consulation.