Jari Leppä, Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Finland:
Agriculture in the face of new challenges: what kind of agricultural policy does Europe need?

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry 16.1.2019 15.43
Speech

Speech on 16 January 2019 at the Green Week seminar organised by the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) and the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners (MTK), Embassy of Finland

Dear Minister Klöckner, dear Chairs, distinguished guests, listeners and friends,

It is a great joy and honour to be here with you in Berlin to discuss the future of agricultural policy. I would like to thank Minister Klöckner and President Rukwied for your thoughts; you have made it exceptionally clear what an important and interesting time we are living in when it comes to agricultural policy reform.

Before delving more deeply into the matter, I feel it might be necessary to explain the satisfied grin I had on my face as I marched in here. In fact, a Finnish Minister does not have too many weeks like this in his career, where he can be a part of such a great effort to increase the visibility of Finnish food. As a farmer and dairy farm owner myself, I have seen the wide-reaching, tireless work carried out in Finland to increase appreciation for high-quality food both in Finland and internationally. This Green Week marks a well-deserved culmination of that work, as we can now present our food culture to the whole world. Getting to this point has required great investments on the part of everyone involved, but it has most certainly been worth it.

I am now immensely proud that I can spend the next days talking about Finnish food with colleagues, partners and exhibition visitors – with friends, strangers and anyone willing to listen. You know the feeling when you find a delicious recipe and get hold of the best ingredients, and you just can’t wait to invite people over for a taste? As a Minister of the Green Week partner country, I can enjoy that feeling for the rest of the week. We have a great deal of new things to show you, from fresh innovations to well-loved traditional products, and I can’t wait to share them with you.

This is a thrilling start to a year that will be important for Finland in many ways. Finland’s EU Presidency term will begin in July, offering yet another important window into the workings of our country. It also provides a vantage point for promoting our common agricultural policy and building the foundation for our work until 2027. Our hopes and objectives for the Presidency term are, of course, to be able to offer certainty to farm-ers about the content of new policies and funding as soon as possible.

All parties involved have acknowledged the situation and agreed that the fine-tuning of the previous reform is no longer enough – we need to make bigger changes to respond to new challenges. At the same time, it is important to ensure equal operating conditions for agriculture throughout the EU area and to look after the vitality of rural areas. Without thriving rural areas, European agriculture based on family farms has no future.

Ensuring the vitality of rural areas requires targeted measures in different Member States, as well as sufficient financing to implement rural development activities. When it comes to the first part, the Commission’s proposal takes important steps in the right direction – increasing subsidiarity and better consideration for the special features of different Member States are integral steps towards creating a more functional and effective agricultural policy. For the second part, strong financing, particularly second-pillar financing, we still have a lot of work to do, and during our EU Presidency term, we will work on clear steps to move forward in questions of financing activities.

In many ways, Finland is an exceptional agricultural country. Our northern location, short but very intense growing season and long winter characterised by frosty temperatures and snow bring their own flavour to products, but also pose challenges for farmers. The conditions place special requirements on the content of common agricultural policy. One of the fundamental values of EU agricultural policy has been to secure the possibility to practice agriculture in all areas of the Union, even less-favoured ones. We must not lose sight of this.

Agriculture is always about much more than the final product. It is an employment chain from farm to shop, it is well managed, thriving traditional landscapes and cultural heritage, it is a generational chain of producers, service providers, processors and consumers. Moving forward, we will still need a wide-ranging agricultural industry to respond to the quickly increasing need for greater food production. We must look after producers’ ability to do their work and to develop and renew their operations.

An important part of this is making sure farmers have the freedom to concentrate on their work, rather than focusing on following rules down to the letter. With this in mind, I feel the Commission’s proposal for a new results-based implementation model is an excellent starting point for negotiations. We all know that there is a lot of room for simplification of the CAP rules. I am hopeful that increased subsidiarity and improved possi-bilities to simplify regulations for Member States will bring some much-needed relief to farmers and admin-istrators in this respect.

At all farms, the long-term development of operations requires identifying challenges with enough precision and well enough in advance, and responding to them with the right level of seriousness. I do not think it is too much to ask the same of us politicians. At the EU level, we have more challenges ahead of us than we might have hoped. The effects of certain challenges, and the measures needed to deal with them, are easier to predict than others. [We are also still dealing with Brexit, a situation where it might be best not to try to make any more predictions.]

Climate change and adapting to it will be a driving force in our lives for the next decades whether we like it or not, and it is clear that agriculture must do its part to ensure adaptation and mitigate the effects. We must do more than what we are currently doing, and the ambitious level of the common EU requirements is well founded. At the same time, the solutions must be such that we will not require the same measures from different Member States regardless of the significant differences in their natural conditions and farming practices.

With this in mind, I would be prepared to increase the subsidiarity of Member States in order to identify the most effective and viable climate measures. This does not mean compromising on the level of requirements, but rather that in the case of requirements such as year-round plant cover, we would take into account what the implementation of the requirement means in conditions of snow and frost, for example, and how it af-fects farmers and farming practices. For example, in Finland, we have only limited possibilities to sow winter cereals.

We are also facing a similar situation with it comes to the loss of biodiversity. The risks are significant, and due to the nature of the problem, the solutions are almost always local. How we ultimately approach these questions, and what tools we give Member States to solve these problems more effectively at the local level and in a way that serves common goals, will determine how successful we are in the EU.

An increased level of requirements, however, does not work when combined with decreased financing. It is justified to ask how sustainable it is to require farmers navigating the legislative jungle to do more for the collective good, while offering them less compensation than before. Incentives have to be in order if we want to reach the targets we have set.

At the same time, I feel we can do more at the EU level to promote animal welfare and to prevent antibiotic resistance and the spread of animal diseases, for example. When dealing with risks that transcend borders, it is especially important to build new, more ambitious cooperation on top of existing, well functioning practices.

Member States have a sizeable task ahead of them as they prepare the next multiannual financial framework. Financing is needed for new priority areas, and traditional policies are once again on the chopping block. Finding the right, functional balance will require a great deal of hard work. That said, common agricultural policy still requires stable financing that enables the achievement of targets and secures the operating conditions of farmers.

When we talk about the future of common agricultural policy, we are also talking about the future of the EU. Common agricultural policy is one of the oldest sectors of integration, an integral part of the internal market and one of the most important achievements of the EU. The direction in which Member States decide to develop the policy tells about the future of integration more broadly and about the ability of the EU to renew itself. Common agricultural policy, perhaps more than anything else, is a core function of the EU, and will continue to be so in the future.

In this light, 2019 will be a very busy but also exceptionally interesting and hopefully rewarding time for anyone who spends their time working with agricultural policy. For my part, I cannot imagine a better start to the year. I am certain that after this Berlin Green Week, I will be even more convinced that the EU Member States have a larger, broader range of high-quality raw ingredients and products to offer than ever before. Finally, I would like to welcome all of you to our exhibition hall, where you can enjoy delicious flavours and a warm atmosphere!

Thank you.

Grune Woche