Agriculture has shown itself to be one of the more resilient sectors in recent years, despite the major economic upheaval. However, challenges remain and commissioner for agriculture and rural affairs Phil Hogan has identified a number of issues to tackle. These include "consolidating agriculture's market orientation and enhancing its competitiveness and productivity". Hogan says a "simplification strategy will be part and parcel of this process".
"We need to equip farmers with the expertise and knowledge to address multiple challenges, such as climate change and food security"
Hogan wants to see farmers taking an active role in other areas identified as challenges for the EU. The Irish commissioner says, "We need to equip farmers with the expertise and knowledge to address multiple challenges, such as climate change and food security." Furthermore, Hogan wants to "inject new vitality into rural areas by increasing the impact of agriculture's direct and indirect links with the upstream and downstream food-related sectors, from inputs and food to tourism and research". Strengthening the role of agriculture "in the food chain, in light of market concentration in food processing and retail" is another priority area, as well as "contributing to the renewal of agriculture by encouraging young farmers to get involved", says Hogan.
The former Irish environment minister says his portfolio has a key contribution to make to the EU's economic recovery. Hogan stresses, "I have a clear political mandate, directly linked to the strategic agenda of the new commission and in particular to commission president Jean-Claude Juncker's top priorities to get Europe growing again and to foster employment." He adds, "As I have seen in my native Ireland, a dynamic, competitive and innovative agri-food sector can stimulate growth and generate jobs upstream and downstream." However, the commissioner is aware that "like the rest of the economy, European agriculture and the rural economy are confronted with major challenges". Hogan highlights that farmers will have to "produce more efficiently with a reduced impact on our natural resources, adapt to and mitigate climate change, improve energy efficiency and cope with increased societal expectations about their role to deliver public goods".
Hogan is enthusiastic regarding the commission's new structural configuration and working methods, which "involves a lot of collaboration across policy areas through the project team". "It is a great way to break down silos and give a platform for the role of agriculture and rural development across the priorities of the Juncker commission." For example, "the jobs, growth and investment priority, the energy union - including a forward-looking climate change policy priority - and a reasonable and balanced free trade agreement with the United States" are all areas in which the agriculture commissioner has an input.
"I value MEPs' input, not just as co-legislators, but for the political perspectives and insights they can offer me about their constituencies"
As a member of the Irish parliament for 25 years, Hogan highlights that parliamentary involvement at national and European level is a priority and "I value MEPs' input, not just as co-legislators, but for the political perspectives and insights they can offer me about their constituencies". He says, he "enjoys meeting MEPs on an ongoing basis to discuss the issues of importance for them as those issues that are important for me as commissioner for agriculture and rural development".
The Irish official believes the flagship common agricultural policy has a contribution to make to boosting jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness in the European Union. Hogan points out that "there are 25 million farmers - rural areas account for 50 per cent of EU territory, the agri-food sector provides seven per cent of employment and 3.5 per cent of EU value added, and rural regions account for 20.6 per cent or 46.1 million of jobs in the EU". The commissioner adds, "with the requirement that 30 per cent of spending is linked to environmentally-friendly agricultural practices - and additional emphasis given to innovation and the new European innovation partnership concept - I believe that the new rural development programmes can play a decisive role in helping to ensure that we have sustainable growth in addressing the challenge of not only producing more, but producing better."
Phil Hogan is European agriculture and rural development commissioner