ENAJ Forum ‘Agriculture on the Frontpage’, Brussels, 8 December 2021,
President Bellocchi, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good afternoon to you all. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address this forum, and to celebrate, with you, your 10th
Congratulations on reaching this milestone!
Since taking office as Commissioner, I have always been impressed by the professionalism, knowledge, and passion of agricultural journalists.
It is clear that the work you do as journalists is essential for the work we do in the Commission.
- It is essential for us to reach the public, and to send our message to farmers, rural communities, and other stakeholders.
- It is also essential for you to bring their messages to us; to bring their questions and concerns about how the policy is working on the ground.
Your work is especially important at this moment, as we finalise the reform of the CAP over the coming months.
And your work will become even more important, as we implement the ambitions of the reformed CAP over the coming years.
With this reform, we aim to help farming and forestry develop along all three pillars of sustainability – social, environmental, and economic.
- We are aiming to encourage a sustainable and competitive farming sector, which can support the livelihoods of our farmers, especially those who operate small and medium-sized family farms.
- We are aiming to ensure that our farmers can continue to provide safe, healthy, and sustainable food for society.
- And we are aiming to deliver tangible results in terms of environment, climate, and biodiversity, in line with the European Green Deal.
The transition towards sustainable food systems is not possible without a transition in farming practices. This transition will present both challenges, and opportunities, for farmers in the European Union.
All of you listening today understand the importance of meeting these challenges and opportunities, and so does your audience in the farming community. But what can we do to underline this importance to the wider public; to develop a common understanding of the Common Agricultural Policy?
Because the CAP affects all European citizens, it is paramount to reach out to everyone, to every age and profession, and to every corner of the continent.
All forms of media, from TV channels and newspapers, to websites and podcasts, have a role to play; all attract a different audience, and all can make an impact.
The role of agricultural journalism
And I believe this impact is already being felt.
Over the last number of years, the media has given an increasing space to agriculture.
With a growing awareness of the need for sustainable food, consumer behaviour is changing – in no small part due to the coverage of journalists, such as those of you participating today.
We are continuing to see a rapid increase in consumer demand for food produced with high environmental and animal welfare standards.
For example, in the last 10 years, retail sales for organic products have increased by over 128%, from €18 billion in 2009 to €41 billion in 2019. We expect this demand for sustainable products to grow further.
And with the implementation of ambitious CAP strategic plans, we can expect the income and value-added for farmers to grow with it.
Here, the role of agricultural journalists is also critical.
The Commission will carefully scrutinise the performance of all CAP strategic plans; we expect our scrutiny to be matched by that of agricultural journalists.
The successful implementation of these plans also requires farmers to be fully briefed on what is required of them.
The specialised agricultural press provide in-depth coverage of CAP-related issues, for farmers, food producers, retailers and distributors; at EU, national, regional, and local levels.
The Commission relies on such press to keep these key stakeholders well-informed, and we appreciate the importance of this work.
The role of the Commission
For our part, the Commission aims to operate as a transparent public service, and to facilitate the essential work that agricultural journalists do.
We intend to:
- provide journalists with timely and reliable information;
- to make sure that all requests are dealt with;
- and to ensure that all journalists have access to the expertise they need.
In this regard, I will highlight the Spokesperson’s service and DG AGRI’s “Ag-Press” network, and online platform – which many of you already know very well. For those not already in the Ag-Press network, I encourage you to join.
You will also be well aware of the Commission’s agrifood data portal, which provides journalists, and all interested parties, with key data on European agriculture and CAP performance – at EU level, and in each Member State.
By working together, we can build an informed debate; and the contribution of specialised journalists, such as the members of the ENAJ network, is critical.
But while we facilitate the work of journalists in the Commission, we of course have no wish to dictate it.
As George Orwell said, journalism is about “printing what someone else does not want printed”.
I know that we do not always share the same views, but I also know there are areas where we share a common understanding.
We all share the view that farming is hard work, and that this work deserves to be recognised.
We agree, I believe, that agriculture is a vital part of our economy and, more than that, our society and way of life.
And when it comes to agricultural policy, I think there is at least one thing on which all lawmakers and journalists can agree – the CAP is a complex policy.
We don’t set out to make it like this, but the complexity and diversity of our food and farming systems make it necessary.
And that is where you, as agricultural journalists, have an especially vital role to play.
You are, and must continue to be, an essential channel in the dialogue that takes place between agricultural policy-makers and the farming community:
- You keep our farmers informed about the decisions we take on their behalf.
- You explain these decisions, which are often quite technical, in terms that they can readily comprehend.
- And you ask difficult questions, to people like me, to see if we are really confident in the decisions we take and the policies we pursue.
That can sometimes make relations between us uncomfortable. But I didn’t take on this job to be comfortable, and I do not think any of you did either.
And while we often take opposing points of view, I do not believe we are truly in opposition.
On that note, I would like to finish with the words of another reporter, this time from my home country.
It was Ryszard Kapucinski who said: “A journalist cannot be a cynic, cannot forget his humanity, and that of the people he meets.”
I believe these words apply equally to politicians, as well as to journalists.
Whether in speeches or news articles, we all try to find the right words, to speak for the people we represent.
Sometimes this means we take opposing lines; but these lines always lead back to these people, who have put their trust in us.
So if we read between our opposing lines, I believe we can, more often than not, find a common understanding.