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January 18, 2018

Speech by the President of the German Farmers’ Union (DBV) Joachim Rukwied - International Green Week Opening Ceremony on 18 January 2018 at 6 p.m.

“Responsibility and change”


Deputies, State Secretaries, Commissioners,

Your Excellencies and Guests from around the world,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The omens for the 83rd International Green Week are somewhat unusual. The continued vigour of the economy ensures a good climate for consumption and there is a positive mood among consumers, the majority of whom assess the economic situation as good and stable. Despite the country’s strong budgetary position, things in the political sphere in Germany are not running so smoothly, due to a set of parliamentary conditions that are unusual for this country, following the general election. Let us hope that this extended search for a basis for political action will now come to a successful conclusion.

It would seem that we will soon have a stable, functioning government and that a political framework is being marked out for the next three and a half years. This is a very welcome development. Notwithstanding the relief at this important milestone, we cannot ignore the fact that business, associations, administration and ministries, and above all the electorate, have shown less understanding for what are admittedly difficult but nevertheless extremely long drawn out exploratory discussions and coalition negotiations.

Amidst all this impatience one thing in particular is clear. People are only too aware that the electoral mandate implies a responsibility, – a responsibility for responding to voters’ concerns, for economic stability, for Europe, for innovation, growth and continued development, for our democratic and constitutional community.

Over the past years this responsibility has become increasingly international. Germany’s role in Europe and in the international community has altered. This new role is not something that Germany has sought, it has simply occurred. But it is in any case an obligation. This development has been further exacerbated by the dislocations in international policy, instability and military conflicts close to Europe. Without any false modesty it can be said that Germany has become an important basis for stability for Europe, both economically and politically. “Europe is waiting for Germany” – this sentence applies to the many tasks which Europe must resolve, and which Germany cannot resolve without Europe.

The Common Agricultural Policy must also meet its responsibilities. EU agricultural policy bears a responsibility to farming families and above all to rural areas, which characterise Europe and which have kept Europe together until now. The betrayal of these rural areas and withdrawing support for them only encourages the Eurosceptics and intensifies centrifugal forces. We are therefore firmly convinced that the political survival of Europe depends on continuing efforts to strengthen rural areas and to the consistent application of this policy. Even if the financing of new tasks and compensating for Brexit give rise to budgetary considerations, the necessary budgetary funding must still be appropriated, no matter what form EU agricultural policy takes after 2020.

Of course politics bears a responsibility, but not on its own. For farming families I want to make one thing clear: we too are prepared to face our responsibilities with regard to sustainability, dealing carefully and efficiently with our resources, protecting domestic animals, the environment, our businesses, good working and living conditions and the wishes and concerns of consumers. Here are two examples:

• The climate protection strategy that we presented in recent weeks is intended to enable us to make our own contribution to coping with climate change. Agriculture has a particular role to play. The task of safeguarding food supplies means that it cannot be dealt with in the same way as other industries. At the same time it is part of the solution, in matters such as renewable energy, decarbonisation and the absorption of CO2. The climate strategy involves measures that are both practicable and feasible. This is a more sustainable approach than setting out unrealistic objectives that will have to be withdrawn shortly before their planned attainment.

• Animal welfare is the consumer’s No. 1 concern. We therefore continue to be proud of the Animal Welfare Initiative, which now covers around a quarter of all pigs fattened in Germany, and about half of the fattened poultry – working together with the food trade and nationally represented on the nation’s food counters. As you know, no other programme has achieved so much. However, we shall continue to develop this initiative even further, according to the motto: The journey is its own reward.

I could continue with the list of ongoing developments. Farmers can claim the credit for agricultural environmental measures on one in every three hectares, 1.4 m. hectares of ecological priority land, a reduction in the use of pharmaceutical products, a more efficient application of fertilisers and pesticides, and much more besides. One could argue about the preferred speed of these developments, but they are indisputable. Agriculture is on the march, and “Organising change” is the guiding theme.

However, agriculture needs the right background conditions if it is to continue this process. And this brings me to the responsibility shared by politics, society and consumers.

The political discussion about the future direction for agriculture and food is an inseparable part of the Green Week. However, some contributions lack consistency and sincerity

• in dealing with the fact that we operate in open markets. In terms of agricultural policy Germany is not some artificial construct that can be altered without taking markets and demand into account. Our single European market and, to an increasing extent, the international market, impose economic realities that politics should not ignore

• in estimating the willingness to pay and actual purchasing behaviour. We farmers are willing to meet any consumer wishes and to offer suitable products. However, none of us can deal sensibly with a situation in which the public expresses its demands in surveys, and consumers buy something completely different.

• in dealing with conflicting objectives, between reduced emissions and animal welfare, between the protection of animals and supposed animal welfare, between a shortage of land and extensivisation, between go-it-alone national legislation and competition on open markets.

But above all we need one thing: a different atmosphere for discussion. The literally poisonous discussion about glyphosate has set new records for negativity. It is not a question of this particular active substance, which is in every respect exaggerated. In all probability a ban would set our cultivation back 25 years, although we farmers have already dealt successfully with other things. Instead it concerns the mechanisms used in some campaigns, and the deliberately misrepresented results of scientific studies. It concerns accusations of plagiarism which, on closer inspection, are groundless, inclusion for ideological reasons of completely different subjects, as well as almost mediaeval scaremongering. In other areas politics and society can claim to operate innovatively and knowledge-based, to prepare Germany for digitalisation and the challenges posed by the information society – for agriculture, on the other hand, we tolerate crude, anti-scientific resentment. This is not the way to create policies for the future.

When talk turns over the next few days to a “new social contract”, we are happy to take that at face value. However, this idea is only credible given an honest approach and a different form of discussion. A ”social contract” in which agriculture

• only represents the antithesis to environmental policy,

• is seen as a means of projecting ideology,

• or which is regarded simply as a resource for financing other tasks,

offers nothing but false promises.

A social discussion is important and necessary, now more than ever, and must be conducted according to the maxim “everyone listens”.

That is why we extend an invitation to consumers, the public and society: come and visit us, engage in discussions with us and enjoy yourselves.

We look forward to meeting you at the 83rd International Green Week.