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Agriculture and Rural Development are part of the Jobs, Growth and Investment priority at the heart of the Juncker Commission. Indeed, I have already begun working with Vice-President Katainen in the Project Team linked to this priority.

As a strategic sector, agriculture is well placed to make a central contribution to the new economic agenda.

A few key numbers:

There are 25 million farmers: rural areas are 50% of EU territory;

agri-food sector = 7% of employment and 3.5% of EU value added;

rural regions = 20.6% (46.1 million) of EU jobs

In the context of growing world food demand, the agri-food sector is the 4th largest export sector in EU: it increased the value of its exports by 70% in the last 5 years (faster than overall EU exports)

There are important upstream/downstream linkages with other sectors (from the fertilisers to the R and D sectors), not to mention the key role it plays in the economic development of rural areas.

The implementation of the new CAP offers a good opportunity to maximise the contribution to growth and jobs agenda:

Increased market orientation encouraging the modernisation of the sector.

The new Rural Development Policy will be a key driver to encourage investments in rural areas and support business start-ups and innovation projects.

With the boost to agricultural research, European farmers will have better access to knowledge to increase productivity.

In order to make the most of the potential of the agricultural sector in terms of growth, jobs and investments, the European Commission is currently also working to improve access to finance for farmers, particularly young farmers, as they start their career in agriculture. We are working on this in close cooperation with the European Investment Bank.

Young farmers are important for the future of EU’s agriculture with a view to growth, competitiveness, jobs and investment. The agricultural sector in the EU is still characterised by an aged – and in many Member States ageing – farming population, though recently there have been signs of improvement.

As you know, for the first time in the 50 years’ history of the CAP, the first pillar has a specific instrument to support young farmers which is compulsory for Member States. They will get a 25 per cent top-up to the basic payment for the first five years.

In addition, there is a wide range of support measures for Young Farmers under the new Rural Development policy, for example the business start-up aid for Young Farmers subject to a business plan, a higher support of up to 90 per cent for investments in physical assets, support for information, advice and training, for cooperation activities and so on.

The transfer of knowledge into practice can also be fostered through the European Innovation Partnership ‘Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability’ priority.

With these measures, we can help ensure that farming remains an attractive career choice for young people across Europe.

With regard to access to finance, it is essential that Member States explore the new financial instruments available in the new Rural Development Programmes with a view to attracting additional funds and reach more beneficiaries.

With the new Horizon 2020 and the aforementioned European Innovation Partnership, we will boost agricultural research and encourage better access to knowledge for farmers. These are the key tools in the years ahead to increase productivity and promote modern and knowledge-based agriculture. We need to be able to feed more people in an environmentally sustainable manner, it is through research and innovation that we meet this challenge.