Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to be with you today. I have heard a lot about yor country from my predecessor as Agriculture Commissioner, Mr. Dacian Ciolos, and also from the current Commissioner for Regional Policy, my colleague, Mrs. Corina Cretu - and so I was keen to visit Romania early in my mandate. Indeed, as this 2-day visit draws to a close, I have a much clearer picture of certain things. Your love of food, for one. But I also take with me the feeling that there is enormous potential here - especially in rurala area. Before becoming Commissioner, I was the elected representative for a rural constituency in the south of Ireland for 32 years. When I was fisrt elected we had severe problems with economic growth and the net migration away from our region - especially among young people. Over the years, however, we have been able to avail of a wide range of national and EU funding in order to address these problems. We have benefited from Regional Policy funding to address infra-structure issue. Being a rural constituency with a large amount of farm activity, we also benefited from the additional support provided by the Common Agricultural Policy.
You may be aware that Ireland has now emerged from economic crisis, and that agriculture and the agri—food sector has played a major role in bringing about the economic recovery at national and local level. In fact, I was particularly proud to return to Kilkenny last week to witness the opening of a new state of the art daiiy processing factory, with the creation of 1.600 direct and indirect jobs. From the figures that I have seen for Romania - and from the places I visited yesterday - I remain optimistic that EU policies and intelligent use of EU funding opportunities can also help rural areas in this country to pick up. I note that 40.4% of the population in Romania is at risk of poverty&social exclusion. This is the second highest in the EU [after Bulgaria] and compares with the EU average in 2013 of just under 24.5%. In Romania poverty has a strong territorial dimension, heavily focused on rural areas. I’m told that this is often linked to poor infrastructure and access to services, and over-reliance on subsistence agriculture and lack of other employment opportunities.
Clearly there is work to be done. But I would argue that the new CAP is even more flexible than ever to provide targeted, efficient support to help rural areas address the problems they face. You will be aware that the EU fmalised the reform of the CAP in 2013 - under the tutelage of Dacian Cioloş. It brings with it a number of important changes, not least the pledge of nearly 20 billion EURO for Romania from the EU budget by 2020 - 11 1/2 billion EURO under Direct Payments and 8 billion EURO under Rural development.
Under the system of Direct Payments, which will be ihlly phased in in Rornania by 2017, Member States have some additional flexibility to target particularly sensitive sectors or regions. I would also mention the special supplement that will be payable for all Young Farmers that enter the sector. I know that Mr. Dacian Ciolos was particularly proud of this achievement, and I see it as a strong message in the modernisation of the farming sector across the EU. However, it is under our Rural Development Programmes — the so- called 2nd Pillar of the CAP — that we provide the most obvious tools to address the sort of problems that you see in rural areas.
The new Rural Development framework outlines 6 priorities for the period until 2020. These include fostering knowledge transfer and innovation in agriculture, forestry, and rural areas, and promoting social inclusion poverty reduction and economic development in rural areas.
EU rules offer a wide range of instruments to the Member States to address these challenges, but the key point is that it is up to Member States or regions themselves to design their Programme in the way best tailored to their needs. Let me outline a number of the options that are available.
For farmers and those directly involved in agriculture, as well as investment grants, reinforced Farm advisory services are available as well as the support coming from the Direct payments, there is also the possibility for young furmers to get installation grants; other measures include help to improve the sustainable management and overall performance on farms or in rural businesses.
That is one of the other key points. The fact that Rural development support is not purely restricted to farming activity. Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises are the backbone of the rural economy of the Union. Farm and non-agricultural business development should be aimed at employment promotion and the setting up of quality jobs in rural areas, the maintenance of existing jobs, the reduction of seasonality fluctuations in employment, the development of non-agricultural sectors outside agriculture and agricultural and food processing. The development of services and infrastructure leading to soqial inclusion and reversing trends of social and economic decline and depopulation of rural areas is also encouraged through the RDP. EU Rural Development funds in Romania have already helped build local roads, to connect rural communes to drinicing water & sewage systems: this can make a real difference to quality of life and put in place basic conditions needed to attract companies to set up in rural areas. We can help to make further progress in the coming years.
I also welcome Minister Constantin’s initiative to use some of the new instruments — such as providing support for small farmers who agree to permanently transfer their holdings, which I think has the potential to be an very useful initiative here to help farm restructuring. Romania has also taken up the new measure for co operation, and related to this puts a particular emphasis in its RDP on promoting association between farmers. I am also particularly interested by the thematic sub-programme for helping the fruit sector become more competitive, as well as Romania’s decisions to set up Mutual Funds to help farmers offset the economic risks they face from drought or other adverse events. I understand access to credit was a key barrier to implementation of the 2007-13 NRDP, so in addition to the planned Guarantee Fund for EAFRD, I invite Romania to also explore carefully all the possibilities to provide credits to farmers and rural businesses.
The LEADER approach for local development has, over a number of years, proven its effectiveness in promoting the development of rural areas by fully taking into account the multi-sector needs for rural development through its bottom-up approach. It’s local people and local elected representatives who often know best what are the real challenges their area faces and where there may be potential to develop — and the LEADER concept allows that local input. So where are we with the Romanian Rural Development Programme?, I hear you ask. I can confirm that my services are working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture. I can also confirm tha.t I discussed a few of the minor points with Minister Constantin this morning. Let me simply say that we are getting there, and I am more convinced now than I was at the start of the week that the Romanian RDP can be approved in the next wave of approvals in the next couple of months.
I don’t want to say too much about the precise elements of the draft Romanian RDP. I’m sure you are well aware of how the Programme is shaping up. In the context of the rural poverty figures that I mentioned earlier, I am very happy that Romania foresees a range of measures to tackle poverty and social exclusion in Romania’s rural areas. I am interested to hear that under LEADER, Romania has put a specific focus on involvement of minorities in Local Action Groups to try and improve social inclusion in rural areas. One key change in the new RDP is the establishment of concrete targets in order to better quantify the specific aims and achievements of the measures. I note that Romania wants to set ambitious targets in its RDPs. These include the creation of 27.000 new jobs in rural area; improved basic services and infrastructure for 2.6 million inhabitants of rural areas (that’s 27% of the rural population); I see also the aim that all rural areas should be covered by the Leader Programme.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I hope I have given you a brief over view of what the EU can do for you, and how we are working with the national administration to ensure that the Rural Development Programme is well-structured. However, the true success of the programme will depend on how you and your colleagues use these opportunities in order to deliver their full potential for rural areas in Romania.
Multumesc! I Thank you and good luck.