European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, addressed this year's Agriculture Outlook conference as Commission President for the final time - unless, of course, she is reappointed president of the next Commission in a year from now.

She began her term by addressing the Outlook conference in 2019, and reflecting on what she said at each, it is a pity she didn’t deliver this year's speech back then.

Perhaps the speech she did deliver in 2019 could have been amended to fit in with 2023's.

Back then, just a few months after the previous Commission agreed a trade deal with Mercosur, she announced her intention to bring forward a Green Deal, which she did within weeks.

It had an agriculture module - Farm to Fork - which switched priority almost entirely from productive agriculture to a land management system, where reduction of emissions and protection of the environment took absolute priority.

The brief of overseeing this transformation was given to then-Commission vice-president Timmermans, who has since left the Commission to resume his career in Dutch politics.

The Commissioner with responsibility for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, was effectively sidelined in the process.

Bad start

It would be an understatement to say that President von der Leyen got off on the wrong foot with EU farmers. The Farm to Fork strategy was hastily developed, with minimal farmer engagement and negligible farmer influence.

The irony of opening the EU market to suppliers with less proven environmental commitment was missed, until picked up by the EU Parliament - and robustly questioned by Austria and France.

It was only with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 that the EU began to relook at its dependence on external suppliers.

The first focus was on energy, given the dependence of EU countries on Russian gas, but with this being a key ingredient of fertiliser, all of a sudden, the question of food supply re-emerged after being long dormant.


To her credit, the Commission President has begun to acknowledge the importance of farmers and food production over the past 18 months.

In her State of the Union address back in September, she first spoke about opening a strategic dialogue with farmers and she used her address at this week’s Outlook conference to announce it would commence early in the new year.

She didn’t concede on the importance of protecting the environment, nor the need to reduce emissions from agriculture.

She may be surprised to find that she is pushing an open door with farmers on both these topics, and her ambitions in this respect have a much better chance of being achieved with a strong, bottom-up farmer input, as opposed to a to-the-top-down approach that was Farm to Fork, back at the beginning of this Commission's term.

Desperate need for CAP funding increase

The other big issue for EU Agriculture policy is money, and this was well-flagged by Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who has for some time been campaigning for a better-funded CAP.

The reality is that, there hasn’t been a meaningful increase of money in the past three CAP reforms and inflation has continually eroded the value of CAP payments.

The Commission President's ambitions have a much better chance of being achieved with a strong, bottom-up farmer input, as opposed to a to-the-top-down approach

If the EU are serious about meaningful engagement with farmers about farming in a way that costs farmers money and at the same time opens EU markets to competitors, which are not obliged to farm to EU standards, then this cost has to be funded.

The next CAP reform may not be scheduled until later in this decade, but the debate and scoping it out is already underway.

Farmers will quickly learn when the CAP budget comes up for debate whether the strategic dialogue that begins in 2024 is a meaningful engagement with farmers, or another talking shop.