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Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the European Innovation Partnership “Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability” ’ COM(2012) 79 final

OJ C 44, 15.2.2013, p. 119–124 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

15.2.2013   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 44/119


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the European Innovation Partnership “Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability”’

COM(2012) 79 final

2013/C 44/21

Rapporteur: Mr Franco CHIRIACO

On 29 February 2012, the European Commission decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Article 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament and the Council on the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’

COM(2012) 79 final.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 22 November 2012.

At its 485th plenary session, held on 12 and 13 December 2012 (meeting of 12 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 125 votes, with 2 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and Recommendations

1.1

The EESC believes that the European Union must continue to ensure an adequate level of public action to promote innovation in agriculture. In this regard, the EESC considers that better coordination needs to be ensured between strictly research policies and agricultural policies to promote innovation, with particular reference to those funded by the CAP. Furthermore, the EESC believes that the discussion on the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ could be an opportunity to contribute to the process of reforming the common agricultural policy after 2013 as well.

1.2

The EESC calls for the strategy of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ to pay sufficient attention to the objective of strengthening and consolidating the European industrial processing sector. Only through adequate integration of the various links in the agri-food chain will it be possible to ensure that an increase in European agricultural supply goes hand in hand with adequate promotion and secure access to the market for European primary products.

1.3

The EESC believes that reflection is needed on the indicator proposed by the Commission for evaluating the results of EIP actions in terms of sustainability. While recognising the decisive contribution that satisfactory soil functionality can make to sustainability, the EESC believes that other results indicators should not be overlooked which make it possible to assess the potential contribution of certain agricultural practices, in particular to the conservation of natural resources.

1.4

The EESC believes that the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ should not neglect to support the implementation of organisational innovations able to optimise relations between links in national and European agri-food chains. Adequate profitability for agricultural operators, improving the operation of agri-food supply chains, restoring the market power of agricultural operators and bringing about a fairer distribution of value amongst the links in agri-food chains are crucial objectives, including for preventing the loss of agricultural activities in many European rural areas.

1.5

The EESC calls on the Commission to guarantee sufficient participation and involvement of representatives of agricultural economic, social and institutional partners in the governance of the EIP, with a view to ensuring that the activities carried out are as effective and efficient as possible.

1.6

The EESC believes that the EIP approach will only have positive effects if operational groups are genuinely capable of launching development processes with measurable objectives, rather than new partnerships simply aimed at seeking public funding. The EESC also agrees with the Commission's proposal to ensure proper coordination of the various operational groups of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ through the creation of a network of EIPs under the umbrella of the European rural development network.

1.7

The EESC believes that the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ makes an important contribution to innovation in agriculture by creating a network of operators and connecting the places where innovation is created with the places where it is used. This approach should allow for intermediaries to connect the various stakeholders involved in innovation processes. The EESC believes that the impact of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ depends on the active involvement of innovation brokers capable of creating and consolidating innovation cooperation links between the many diverse actors.

1.8

The EESC considers it a priority to integrate initiatives of the operational groups of EIPs with actions in the field of demographic renewal, technical assistance, training, particularly for young farmers, support for structural investments, the promotion and development of agricultural products, the creation of new market outlets (such as short supply chains) and the diversification of company income through priority access to the resources of rural development programmes.

1.9

The EESC calls for the implementation of specific measures to ensure coordination and synergy between the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ and the other EIPs for ‘raw materials’ and ‘water’.

2.   European Innovation Partnerships (EIP)

2.1

In its communication on Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union, the European Commission introduces European innovation partnerships (EIP) (1). The Commission believes that EIPs should help to resolve various problems of great importance to society, including the provision of healthy and high-quality foods through sustainable production methods.

2.2

The European Commission has so far promoted an initial pilot partnership on active and healthy ageing (2). In parallel, the following three partnerships have been proposed:

Raw materials (3);

Agricultural productivity and sustainability (4);

Water (5).

2.1

The EESC has already expressed its interest in the European partnership. However, it has pointed out the many general procedures and measures already implemented in this area. The EESC has pointed to the need to take account of these initiatives and build on them. The EESC believes that the work already carried out by the Commission and other stakeholders should be acknowledged, consolidated and used in the development of new initiatives. The EESC has recommended that the proposed new measures and instruments be harmonised to make them compatible with processes already in place, that additional complications and duplications should be avoided, and that the necessary continuity, legal certainty and stability should be ensured (6). The EESC has also called for respect for the voluntary principle, variable geometry, transparency and a clear form of governance which is easy to administer to be ensured in the implementation of European innovation partnerships (7).

3.   Gist of the communication

3.1

Under the ‘Innovation Union’ initiative, the European Commission has presented a communication to promote a new European innovation partnership on ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’.

3.2

The European Commission sets two objectives for the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’:

promoting the productivity and efficiency of the agricultural sector, reversing the recent trend of diminishing productivity gains by 2020;

ensuring the sustainability of agriculture, securing a satisfactory level of soil functionality by 2020.

To this end, the EIP is intended to help build effective links between cutting-edge research and technology and stakeholders, including farmers, businesses, industry, advisory services and NGOs.

4.   General comments

4.1

The EESC supports the Commission's initiative to introduce European innovation partnerships (EIP). In particular, the EESC agrees with the Commission that a specific EIP initiative should be reserved for agricultural productivity and sustainability. The EESC believes that this initiative could also be a useful opportunity to encourage reflection amongst agri-food stakeholders with a view to identifying priority strategic objectives for the development of European agriculture between now and 2050. In this regard, the EESC urges the Commission to take account of some of the proposals contained in certain of its previous opinions (8).

4.2

The EESC considers that one of the main challenges for the future of agriculture is finding a production model which can reconcile agricultural production with respect for the environment and sustainability. Achieving this objective is complicated by several factors which have contributed to the recent world agri-food situation. Fluctuations in prices of agricultural commodities, the financialisation of the agricultural sector, the increasing use of agricultural products for energy and the impact of the global economic crisis are serious obstacles to the development of new, more productive and sustainable agricultural practices. Given the importance of research and innovation, the EESC believes that the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ can contribute significantly to tackling this challenge, which is critical for the future of European agriculture.

4.3

The EESC points out that the competitiveness of the entire European agri-food system depends on the contribution of the industrial processing and food marketing sectors. In this respect, the EESC calls on the Commission not to underestimate the contribution made by imports of agricultural raw materials to the economic results of European agri-food chains. The strategy of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ must therefore pay sufficient attention to the objective of strengthening and consolidating the European industrial processing sector. Only through adequate integration of the various links in the agri-food chain will it be possible to ensure that an increase in European agricultural supply goes hand in hand with adequate promotion and secure access to the market for European primary products.

4.4

The EESC notes that the Commission's communication does not give a definition of agricultural productivity. Reflection on the concept of agricultural productivity should be based on an agreed definition of agricultural output. In various opinions (9), the EESC has stressed the importance of preserving the European agricultural model (EAM), pointing out that the population of the EU is concerned about the various roles of agriculture (food and fibre production, protection of the environment and rural development, its contribution to quality of life in rural areas, balanced territorial development, food quality and animal welfare). The EESC believes that any effort to promote or improve agricultural productivity should focus on the aim of fostering the multifunctional nature of agriculture, promoting the sector's balanced development without neglecting any of the EAM's outputs.

4.5

The EESC considers that the concept of agricultural productivity should take account of various factors' contribution to production. Many analyses of agricultural productivity tend only to measure the contribution of technical factors (soil, water, fertilisers, plant protection products, seeds), failing to stress the fundamental contribution of the human factor to high-quality production. The EESC believes, therefore, that a strategy to promote and evaluate agricultural productivity cannot be drawn up unless appropriate measures (training, safety) are taken to improve the quality of agricultural employment.

4.6

In the implementation of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’, the EESC believes that reflection is needed on the concept of sustainability in order to factor in the special characteristics of the EMA and the trends and challenges of the global situation. With regard to the relationship between agriculture and sustainability, the EESC would like first of all to stress the contribution of multifunctionality to achieving this objective. The EESC would point out that multifunctionality is a specific inherent characteristic of agriculture and that it should therefore be protected and fostered also within the context of promoting sustainable development.

4.7

The EESC notes the considerable progress made in the European agriculture sector in terms of the three aspects of sustainable development (economic, social and environmental). The Committee points out, however, that sustainable development cannot be guaranteed unless sufficient attention is paid to the institutional dimension of sustainability. The Committee therefore stresses the need for EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ actions to ensure a sufficient degree of participation and involvement of all stakeholders in the agriculture sector in order to maximise the EMA's contribution to achieving the objective of sustainable development.

4.8

The EESC welcomes the fact that the Commission identifies agricultural sustainability as one of the priority objectives of the EIP. However, the EESC believes that reflection is needed on the indicator proposed by the Commission for evaluating the results of EIP actions in terms of sustainability. While recognising the decisive contribution that satisfactory soil functionality can make to sustainability, the EESC believes that other results indicators should not be overlooked which make it possible to assess the potential contribution of certain agricultural practices, in particular to the conservation of natural resources.

4.9

The EESC also believes that further consideration should be given to the concept of innovation in agriculture, taking account of the specific characteristics of the EMA. From the 1960s to the 1980s, and due to innovations introduced as a result of the green revolution, there was a considerable increase in agricultural production. However, this improvement in productivity took place at the expense of agriculture's environmental sustainability, with the increasingly widespread use of chemical products (fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides) and of fuel for mechanised farming. Although the EESC believes strongly that food security is a fundamental human right, it does not consider the green revolution to be the right model for tackling this vital global challenge in the future. To this end, innovative processes in agriculture should be geared towards an organic development strategy for the sector which promotes the multifunctional nature of agriculture, focusing on the efficient use of all production factors (soil, water, manpower, energy) and fostering quality products.

4.10

The EESC is a strong believer in the importance of promoting and defending the EMA. The multifunctional nature of agriculture should be acknowledged, stressing the contribution it can make to ensuring sustainable development. Given this extension of agriculture's roles and tasks, the innovative strategies aimed at the sector need to be reconsidered. The EESC believes that the scope and areas of action should be redefined, in view of the increasing interaction between agriculture and other production sectors. To this end, innovative intervention strategies must be less and less sectoral and more and more geared towards activities which fall within what is known as the bio-economy.

4.11

The EESC calls upon the Commission to include all forms of innovation with the potential to be implemented within the agriculture sector. In this respect, while not underestimating the importance of ensuring adequate support for the creation and dissemination of process innovation in agriculture, the EESC believes that greater attention should be paid to innovations applicable during marketing stages, to those relating to piloting new forms of business organisation and to those aimed at optimising relations between links in national and European agri-food chains.

4.12

With regard to product innovations, the EESC notes the increasing interest shown by private individuals in the development, dissemination and marketing of ‘functional foods’. The EESC, while acknowledging the economic and health importance of these new types of product, points to the need to support production innovation processes which, as well as including private initiatives, take greater account of the need to offer the entire community substantial benefits.

4.13

The EESC believes that the Commission has set very ambitious objectives for the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’. In order for the initiative to be the greatest possible success, the EESC considers that maximum synergy must be ensured between the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ and the different EU policies (business; climate action; intersectoral policies; economy, finance and tax; employment and social rights; energy and natural resources; environment, consumers and heath; external relations and foreign affairs; regional policy and local development; science and technology). In this regard, particular attention should be paid to ensuring consistency between the EIP initiative and the content and instruments of the common agricultural policy.

4.14

The EESC considers it important to stress the implications of the EU's commercial policies in terms of the productivity of the agricultural sectors. In the case of protein crops, for example, the EU's decision to reduce support has led to a loss of competitiveness amongst European operators in this sector. This case demonstrates that improving the productivity of certain agricultural sectors does not depend exclusively on increasing the resources transferred to the sector but can also be achieved through effective commercial measures. In this regard, it should be noted that, with a view to guaranteeing the profitability of farms, for every policy aimed at increasing agricultural productivity there should be corresponding actions to ensure the necessary access to the market for the increased quantities of agricultural products.

4.15

The EESC would note that the world as a whole and individual countries have benefited enormously from the growth in agricultural productivity. Much of this benefit can be attributed to technological progress resulting from public investments in research and development in the agricultural sector. The empirical evidence available suggests, however, that the benefits have been much greater than the costs. The EESC believes that the European Union must continue to ensure an adequate level of public action to promote innovation in agriculture. In this regard, the EESC considers that better coordination needs to be ensured between strictly research policies and agricultural policies to promote innovation, with particular reference to those funded by the CAP. The contribution that both decoupled direct payments under the first pillar and structural rural development measures can make to the dissemination of technical progress should be improved.

4.16

The EESC points out that the discussion on the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ is taking place in parallel with the discussion on the European Union's new Multiannual Financial Framework. The amount of resources the EU intends to allocate to its different policies is not yet certain. The EESC considers it important for the EU to provide sufficient support for European-level research and innovation programmes, in line with the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy. With regard to the agriculture sector, the EESC calls at least for the EUR 5.1 billion expressly set aside for research and innovation in agriculture under the proposed MFF 2014-2020 to be guaranteed.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

The EESC welcomes the European Commission's efforts to introduce a new form of governance for the implementation of innovation processes, but would like clarifications regarding the criteria to be used to select the members of the steering board which will oversee the drawing up of the EIP's multi-annual strategic work plan.

5.2

The EESC considers it important to ensure the greatest possible synergy between the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ and other previous Commission initiatives to promote innovation in the sector (standing committee on agricultural research, ERA-NET and European technology platforms). The EESC has previously (10) pointed out the added value and benefits of joint programming in the agricultural research sector in terms of impact on European competitiveness. The EESC would also like clarifications regarding the measures to be taken to ensure coordination and synergy between the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ and the other EIPs for ‘raw materials’ and ‘water’.

5.3

The EESC considers the framework presented by the Commission for the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ to be very ambitious. The EESC sees the bottom-up approach proposed for the functioning of the operational groups as a positive innovation. In parallel, the EESC proposes a reflection on the potential governance problems which could arise in the implementation of the new EIP strategy. The EESC believes that the EIP approach will only have positive effects if operational groups are genuinely capable of launching development processes with measurable objectives, rather than new partnerships simply aimed at seeking public funding.

5.4

The EESC considers that the implementation of the EIP approach must not create further difficulties and complications for bodies potentially involved in operational groups. The EESC would stress in particular that the implementation of the EIP initiative could create administrative costs for managing authorities and paying agencies involved in selection, payment, monitoring and control activities relating to the implementation of the EIP approach. The EESC believes that this situation risks undermining the added value of the EIP initiative, including in terms of the relationship between cost and benefit.

5.5

The EESC welcomes the fact that, in the implementation of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’, the Commission is adopting the systemic approach proposed by the World Bank through the Agricultural Innovation System – AIS, aimed at creating a network of organisations, companies and individuals to bring onto the market new products, new processes and new forms of organisation, in collaboration with the institutions and in line with policies which have an impact on the way in which different agents interact, share, access, exchange and use knowledge. This approach highlights the importance of intermediaries to connect the various stakeholders involved in innovation processes. The EESC believes that the impact of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ therefore depends on the active involvement of innovation brokers capable of creating and consolidating innovation cooperation links between the many diverse actors.

5.6

The EESC agrees with the Commission's proposal to ensure adequate coordination of the various operational groups of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ through the creation of a network of EIPs under the umbrella of the European rural development network. The EESC would like further clarification regarding the operational provisions the Commission intends to implement in order to enable the European rural development network to carry out this new task, particularly in relation to actions aimed at the training of staff with suitable skills and qualifications.

5.7

Given the new global challenges (the liberalisation of markets, the growing population and the scarcity of natural resources), more attention needs to be paid to the issue of innovation in agriculture. The evidence available suggests that there are problems relating to the speed of innovation, which is slower than hoped, and to the prevalence of traditional types of innovation, such as mechanical and varietal innovations, over those concerning new markets, direct processing, new techniques for cultivation and certifications. The EESC believes that the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ makes an important contribution to innovation in agriculture by creating a network of operators and connecting the places where innovation is created with the places where it is used.

5.8

The EESC notes that propensity for innovation in agriculture also depends upon the individual characteristics of entrepreneurs and their families, the structural nature of the enterprise and the market conditions and general cultural and institutional situation in which the enterprise operates. The EESC therefore considers it a priority to integrate initiatives of the operational groups of EIPs with actions in the field of demographic renewal, technical assistance, training, particularly for young people, support for structural investments, the promotion and development of agricultural products, the creation of new market outlets (such as short supply chains) and the diversification of company income through priority access to the resources of rural development programmes.

5.9

The EESC points out that, under 2007-2013 rural development programming, a new measure was introduced to promote initiatives on ‘cooperation for development of new products, processes and technologies in the agriculture and food sector and in the forestry sector’ (11). The EESC believes that coordination and synergy should be ensured between the measures of the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’ and initiatives already taken in relation to rural development. To this end, the results of mid-term evaluations of RDPs should be used to analyse the weaknesses and strengths found thus far in the implementation of cooperation projects, so that they can be taken into account in the operational planning of measures under the EIP ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’.

Brussels, 12 December 2012.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  COM(2010) 546 final Europe 2020 Flagship Initiative Innovation Union.

(2)  COM(2012) 83 final Taking forward the Strategic Implementation Plan of the European Innovation Partnership on Active and Healthy Ageing.

(3)  COM(2012) 82 final Making raw materials available for Europe's future well-being - proposal for a European innovation partnership on raw materials.

(4)  COM(2012) 79 European innovation partnership ‘Agricultural productivity and sustainability’.

(5)  COM(2012) 216 final European innovation partnership on water.

(6)  EESC Opinion on the Innovation Union (OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 39, point 3.5).

(7)  EESC Opinion on the Innovation Union (OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 39, point 4.4).

(8)  EESC Opinion on The future of Europe's young farmers (OJ C 376, 22.12.2011 p. 19-24, point 3.5),

EESC Opinion on The role of women in agriculture and rural areas (OJ C 299, 4.10.2012, p. 29-33).

(9)  EESC Opinion on the Reform of the CAP in 2013 (OJ C 354, 28.12.2010, p. 35-42),

EESC Opinion on The CAP towards 2020 (OJ C 191, 29.6.2012, p. 116-129),

EESC Opinion on the Future of the CAP (OJ C 132, 3.5.2011, p. 63-70).

(10)  EESC Opinion on the Agricultural research (OJ C 128, 18.5.2010, p. 107, point 1.3),.

(11)  Article 29, Regulation (EC) No 1698/2005 on support for rural development by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD).


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