"The farming population is getting older at a rapid rate. For each young farmer – aged 35 years or younger – there are approximately nine farmers older than 55 years. Generational renewal is an issue that goes far beyond a reduction in the average age of farmers in the EU. It is also about empowering a new generation of highly-qualified young farmers to bring the full benefits of technology to support sustainable farming practices in Europe." It was with these words that the EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development, Phil Hogan, began the debate with local and regional leaders on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy during the European Committee of the Regions' plenary on 9 February.
"The 20% fall in the number of farms between 2007 and 2013 shows that there is a need to modernise and improve this vital pillar of the European Union. To make it attractive for future generations and protect the livelihood of all our local communities, we need to build a truly sustainable and well-funded CAP. Our farming communities must be supported by renewing our efforts to create an innovative European rural agenda," said Markku Markkula, President of the European Committee of the Regions.
During the debate, members of the EUs assembly of local and regional politicians adopted an opinion on Supporting young European farmers , drawn up by Arnold Hatch (UK/ECR), member of Alderman, Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council in Norther Ireland. "Young people are drifting away from farming and the countryside to our urban areas. Today around 72% of citizens in the EU live in urban areas and this figure is expected to rise to more than 90% in several countries by 2020. We all agree on the importance of rural communities but we are not doing enough to sustain them. We need a healthy agricultural sector for a healthy rural economy but this means reforms of the financial support system for young farmers. The subsidy system should address both the needs of established and new farmers rather than being tied to land ownership. The current system favours existing farmers, making it more difficult for our youth to enter the sector. We need to invest more in skills, which is where local and regional authorities have a key role to play offering advice to young farmers on technical, legal and financial matters," said Arnold Hatch.
Hatch further stressed that the CAP provisions need to be more flexible in recognising the role of young farmers' within the legal and economic situation on the ground (such as the transfer of entitlements, older farmers who only recently started farming activity), with consideration given to the situation of young farmers starting their careers alongside older family members or other agricultural entrepreneurs.
The CoR rapporteur on the future of the CAP after 2020, Guillaume Cros (FR/PES), Vice-President of the Regional Council of Occitanie, said that local and regional decision-makers were concerned about the future of rural areas falling behind urban areas. He urged the European Commission to increase financial support for rural development, which has dropped from 32.6% of the EU's Structural Funds budget in 2007-13 to 21.3% for 2014-20. He argued that the current share is too small, and does not reflect their geographical, demographic and economic weight.
The debate took place days after the launch of the European Commission's three-month public consultation , as the first phase of the modernisation and simplification of the Common Agricultural Policy. Commissioner Hogan will present the results in July 2017, which will form the basis of its formal proposals to be published later this year.
Supporting young European farmers , Arnold Hatch (UK/ECR), Alderman, Armagh, Banbridge & Craigavon Council
Innovation and modernisation of the rural economy , Randel Länts, Member of Viljandi City Council (EE/PES)
Consultation on modernising and simplifying the common agricultural policy (CAP) , deadline 2 May 2017
Further information on the Common Agricultural Policy
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