The European Commission has announced a roadmap to begin designing the Common Agricultural Policy of the future.
President Jean-Claude Juncker and Commissioner Phil Hogan disclosed the move at a conference in Brussels.
A wide-ranging public consultation will begin shortly with a view to publishing a document by the end of 2017.
It follows a Commission commitment to “modernise and simplify” the CAP so that it makes a stronger contribution to job creation targets and sustainable development goals in the EU.
The CAP, which has an annual €59bn budget, helps the EU to protect 22 million farmers and 44 million jobs which depend on agriculture — twice the number of employees in the European auto and aviation sectors combined.
But the Commission president said it must be simplified to reduce the administrative burden on farmers. And it must be modernised to meet 21st century challenges and must meet the objectives in sustainable development.
President Juncker said there can be no doubt that this policy must be maintained with regard to its guiding principles.
“It must, of course, be able to be adjusted or supplemented when we find faults. I have repeatedly had occasion to refer to the position of farmers in the food chain: I can’t agree that the price of milk may be lower than that of water,” he said.
President Juncker said that simplification and modernisation are therefore the key words and the primary objective of the Communication on the future of the CAP which the Commission plans to adopt before the end of 2017.
Commissioner Hogan said President Juncker’s announcement reflects a commitment to take forward work and consult widely.
“Without prejudicing the outcome, I believe that there are a small number of key principles that should inform this important work, which will affect the life of every European citizen.
“I am convinced, based on our market experiences as well as our international commitments, that the CAP has to ensure greater market resilience, more sustainable agricultural production and progress on generational renewal,” he said.
Mr Hogan said he had stressed previously stressed that the CAP needs to be “fit for purpose” to meet the challenges ahead.
“I have spent much of the past year reflecting on the early implementation of this CAP and identifying areas in which it could be improved, based on the lessons of implementation and, particularly, the crises in a number of sectors.
“As these markets recover, we must apply the lessons learned. The dependence on public intervention in the market will inevitably become more limited, but should also be more targeted and effective,” he said.
Mr Hogan said while the last couple of years have been challenging, they have also shown there are opportunities for EU farmers and agri-businesses.
“Yes, the CAP makes great demands of our farmers when it comes to maintaining food safety and quality standards. We have the most stringent requirements of any agri-food system on the planet.
“And that will not change. If anything, the expectations will only become greater. Put simply, the new CAP will have to have a higher level of environmental ambition.
“And that is because it is the right thing to do. Our farmers and related actors will have to focus on the challenge and innovate as never before. But this challenge also provides huge and unquestionable opportunities for our producers.
“Because, when they start to lead from the front in terms of sustainable intensification, they will be delivering products of the highest quality with impeccable environmental credentials. That’s what the market wants,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the EU stands for high quality and high standards and this is a principle on which we should never waver. “There can be no question of joining any race to the bottom. Our standards are our reputation.
“In modernising and simplifying the CAP, we have a chance to shape a policy that meets the challenges of today and tomorrow,” said Mr Hogan, adding that the Commission does not have a monopoly of wisdom on the ideal policy for the future.
“We want your input and active and constructive engagement, beginning with the public consultation, which I expect to launch early in the New Year,” he told stakeholders.
Henri Brichart, the French vice-president of COPA, the European umbrella body for farmers, said the CAP is an essential part of farmers’ lives.
“It’s important that we can enter into dialogue with the EU Commission and other stakeholders on the future of it to explain the realities of farming and to ensure that measures are workable,” he said Underlining the importance of farming, he said agriculture must remain a priority for the EU since it is not only important for food security but also for growth and jobs.
“Consumers need to be aware of this,” he said. “It’s a difficult time and farmers need a simple and stable CAP in the future, with application of common rules across the EU.
“We have many challenges — competitiveness, market volatility, sustainability — and it’s important to have a CAP that provides solutions rather than problems. We need to reflect on the right tools for the future. Direct payments to farmers under the CAP must continue. We will need to have more tools in the future to help farmers better manage the risks of increasingly volatile markets,” he said.
“More innovation and investment is also essential to help farmers respond to the increasing challenges.”
Mr Brichart was recently elected chairman of the EU Civil Dialogue Group with a one-year mandate to help steer the discussions on the future CAP.