2024 Annual Conference summary – Session 3

What levers can the EU pull to deliver systemic change and what did we learn?

Wednesday, Apr 03, 2024

Starting session 3, David Clarinval, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Small Businesses, the Self-Employed, SMEs and Agriculture, Institutional Reforms and Democratic Renewal, told participants via a video presentation that “strategic autonomy and food sovereignty” were a priority for the Belgian EU presidency. Underlining this commitment, Belgium will present conclusions on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy to the next European Commission. Agriculture must be seen as “a strategic and essential activity in the European growth strategy”, alongside energy and industrial policy. The minister pointed to research, innovation, new technologies, genomic techniques and bioeconomy as key drivers for the sector’s future.

Panel discussion

Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle, Director Strategy and Policy analysis, DG AGRI emphasised the agricultural sector’s resilience in delivering daily food and noted that Europe was the only region in the world where farming had reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. Those achievements were due to key economic players in the food chain, not just input from policy makers. Looking ahead, she said agricultural policy needed to be better integrated across the food chain and with areas such as the environment, climate and the economy.

Martin Hlaváček, MEP, European Parliament, maintained that a basic conflict of principle in policy preparation, cannot be bypassed by political ambition alone. “You have to align the creation of value with the policy objectives,” he said, pointing out that today value is unfairly distributed.

He urged greater focus on a basic evaluation of farming systems, taking account of externalities and providing compensation to ensure land value increases as it is used for more non-productive activities. Once a framework is created “that will allow a market to redistribute this value, we will no longer have conflict”.

Jurgen Tack, Secretary General, European Landowners’ Organization, deployed “a good visual” to demonstrate farmers’ current frustration. With the help of two assistants, he presented a washing line containing 157 sheets of paper, representing the individual pieces of adopted legislation, close to 10,000 pages, impacting directly on agriculture since 1 January 2020. Much of that legislation, he complained, had involved no stakeholder involvement. “They are making changes to existing legislation, to existing systems. If we really want to have systemic change, let’s start from a blank page. Let’s sit together in a decent way,” he said, urging policy makers to talk to farmers, landowners and foresters “and build something which works”.

Stefania Avanzini, Director, One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) & Member of the WBCSD Extended Leadership Group, explained that the coalition of agri value chain players she represents are investing millions “because the resiliency of their businesses is at stake”. The coalition supports farmers who transition with technical assistance, independent agronomic advice, long-term contracts, price premiums, advantageous loan and insurance terms and encourages a shift from a practice-based to a results/outcome-based incentives system. Agri value chain players have a large role to play in the wider food systems transformation. According to a recent report from the Food and Land Use Coalition, they will need to invest €205 billion annually – 2% of food revenues – to halve their climate emissions.

Speaking in response to Jurgen Tack’s visual of the 157 pieces of legislation, Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle found the piece of paper representing the Common Agricultural Policy and highlighted that, on the basis of the proposal of the Commission, over €300 billion has been allocated for farmers over a seven year period. She acknowledged more emphasis could have been placed on dialogue in the past and called for greater engagement now among all concerned “to align our objectives, our work and our strategies”. She added: “Now let’s move to the table and work together and enjoy the fact that we have and what probably one of the unique sector in Europe to get advantage of such an important policy.”

Concluding the session, United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasised the importance of joint action “to support agricultural innovation and sustainable productivity growth to achieve global food security”. He gave three examples of American joint action in practice: the Aim for Climate the US launched with the United Arab Emirates at COP 26 which now has over 600 partners; the Partnerships for Climate Smart Commodities; and the recently launched International Climate Hub to share information with global partners. Domestically, the US is investing heavily in innovation. He noted that each dollar allocated to agricultural research leads to a $20 return in economic impact.

Further information on the speakers plus videos of this session can be viewed on the event page.

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