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Speech by President von der Leyen at the 2020 EU Agricultural Outlook Conference

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op woensdag 16 december 2020.

Liebe Frau Bundeslandwirtschaftsministerin, liebe Julia,

Dear Members of the European Parliament, lieber Norbert Lins,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You may still remember the pictures from the first days of the corona crisis. The long queues in front of shops. The photos of empty supermarket shelves on social media. And people in the evening news, saying they were afraid that food supply would be disrupted in the pandemic. Today we know: These fears were unfounded. All shelves were quickly restocked. Thanks to our farmers and many other actors of the food supply chain, there were no serious food shortages anywhere in Europe.

However, I know, the pandemic is a trying time for our farmers and their families. There is no home office for farmers. They are used to roll up their sleeves and get down to work. And this is what they did, once again, in this crisis. As local markets and restaurants closed, farmers sold their products via the internet and delivered them for free. And when harvest workers from abroad could not make it to their jobs due to travel restrictions, local volunteers filled the gap. Thus our farmers became a symbol of resilience. For this, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our meeting could not come at a more crucial time for Europe. The pandemic is far from over and big parts of our continent are in lockdown. But beyond COVID-19, another crisis looms, which will continue for a very long time: Global warming, the crisis of our planet. This is what I want to discuss with you at this key annual EU Agricultural Outlook Conference.

A lot is at stake for farmers. Their ability to work the land and provide healthy food is increasingly threatened, not just by volatile markets, but also by the effects of climate change, by environmental degradation of the land, and by loss of biodiversity. The business of farmers depends on these natural resources. For farmers, fighting climate change and protecting the environment essentially means protecting the future of their own livelihood. And that is also why the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be a reason to pause in protecting our nature. A lot is at stake as well for Europe's citizens.

What we do, the policies we create together, strongly affect the food we will all get on our plates, its safety, quality and its sustainability. And a lot is at stake for our nature and our planet. Farmers have indeed a huge role in protecting nature, fighting climate change, and preserving biodiversity and our beautiful European landscapes. Europe is a pioneer in the fight against climate change. By 2050, Europe wants to become the first climate neutral continent in the world. And already by 2030 we want to reduce our CO2 emissions by at least 55%.

European farmers do not need to be convinced that this European Green Deal is the right way forward. Their livelihood depends on natural resources. They are first hand witnesses of climate change. They know why action is needed. Today, volatile weather conditions are as risky for farmers as volatile markets. Drought and flood have hit more frequently and violently over the last years. All too often destroying parts of or entire harvests. And this is just the beginning.

That is why a reformed, future-oriented European agricultural policy is a core element of the Green Deal. A policy that helps farmers in the transition and that rewards farmers for protecting climate and nature while securing food security as well as your competitiveness and livelihoods. Of course, I know that many farmers already engage in organic farming, as the total area under organic farming is steadily increasing, and already implement environmental and climate-related practices. They increased production while reducing emissions of for example greenhouse gases, ammonia or phosphates.

However, as the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity Strategies point out, we need to do more. By 2030, we need, for instance, to reduce substantially the use and risk of chemical pesticides and the use of more hazardous ones; we need to reduce nutrient losses, while ensuring no deterioration of soil fertility; and we need to reduce the sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture. And as a medical doctor by training I know of the enormous risks of growing antibiotic resistance. We should achieve 25% of total farmland under organic farming. And we should increase substantially biodiversity-rich landscape features on agricultural land.

The good news is: Our farmers have always been at the forefront when Europe had to overcome common challenges. Since its creation in 1962, the CAP's guiding principles were to ensure that people had enough food at affordable prices, and that all farmers would earn a decent living - small family farmers as well as large-scale farms. Let me be very clear here: These objectives are not relics from a faraway time. They are as vital today as always.

Now, once again, the CAP is right at the centre, to achieve important goals for our Union. It will be instrumental in the transition to sustainable food production. And it will empower farmers to lead the fight against climate change. To achieve this, the Commission wants to reward those farmers, who are ambitious in the fight against climate change. They should know: If you choose to go green and digital, it will pay off.

More and more consumers are interested in the quality of what they eat and how it is produced. By what they buy, they also show us which agricultural model they support. Just look at the last Eurobarometer survey: Nine out of ten Europeans believe that sustainability should be an important priority for Europe´s agricultural policy. Consumers are ready to pay a fair price for healthy and tasty food.

This idea underpins our Farm to Fork and our Biodiversity Strategies. I know that some farmers worry about additional bureaucracy and other impediments, especially now, in these trying times. But our Strategies are not about new burdens. They are about new opportunities: We want to protect our environment and create new business opportunities for our farmers.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Our farmers live in the heart of our societies. They are central for achieving our climate goals. But they are not the only ones who have to adapt. The fight against climate change calls for action for all actors in the agri-food value chain. Next year we will be presenting our governance framework for the food industry. And we are launching initiatives on labelling to help consumers make healthy and sustainable choices.

We also work with Members States. They know their rural communities best. This is why we now invite Member States to come up with their CAP strategic plans. With these plans, Member States should tell us how they want to make best use of the resources of the CAP. At the same time, we want to know, how they are going to achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal. In the next days, the Commission will send out recommendations to help Member States preparing these plans. Because only together we can deliver on our environmental ambitions.

This is where Europe puts additional resources on the table. Research and innovation will contribute to improve agriculture, food production and the protection of our environment. EUR 10 billion are foreseen for new projects in Horizon Europe.

And there is our recovery package, NextGenerationEU, worth EUR 750 billion. With this money, we do not only want to combat the economic consequences of the crisis but build forward better. We want to create a more sustainable, a more digital and a more resilient Europe. NextGenerationEU is also the recovery plan for our farmers. Parliament, Council and Commission have just reached an agreement to allocate EUR 8 billion of NextGenerationEU to farming and rural communities.

This is why the European Commission is determined to play its full role in the trilogue negotiations, as a driving force for greater sustainability and as guardian of the green ambition for the CAP that we are confident the current proposal can deliver. For this purpose, we can build on the good elements in the European Parliament and Council positions. For instance, both Parliament and Council have confirmed the mandatory nature of eco-schemes and earmarked significant budgets for those schemes.

They have also maintained the principles of ‘no backsliding' and of an explicit link between the CAP strategic plans and certain EU laws on environment and climate. At the same time, certain aspects of the Parliament and Council positions raise doubts on the capacity of the CAP to deliver on environment and climate. They show the challenge ahead of us in the course of the trilogues.

The European Commission will deploy all effort in these negotiations to push for a sustainable agriculture that respects nature. That allows farmers to earn a fair living by producing healthy and tasty products that are affordable for our citizens. The European Commission will aim to maximise CAP spending for climate-friendly practices. We will ensure ambitious eco-schemes that reward those who invest into regenerative farming.

I prefer a CAP that pays farmers to take good care of our land now, with conditions that may be perceived as tough, instead of having to come later with environmental regulations that remedy the damage done to our nature. I am convinced that we can have it all: Safe incomes for the farmers of Europe, a thriving nature that secures their livelihood and protects against climate disaster and securing sufficient, safe and healthy food.

Thank you.

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