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#SMEs should play greater role in #Bioeconomy

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The bioeconomy is a crucial factor in fighting climate change, responding to the growing food demand and boosting rural areas. In its opinion on the Updating of the Bioeconomy Strategy, adopted at its plenary session of 15 May, the EESC calls for better support for SMEs in the form of advice and access to finance.

Public-private co-operation should be promoted and supported through the common agriculture policy. Central and eastern Europe could enhance the output of biomass processing by developing territorial and local links.  It is also important for the EU to engage with other countries on global carbon pricing, in order to make the bioeconomy more competitive.  Howsoever the EU moves forward on developing its bioeconomy, sustainability criteria must apply.

The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy. As such, it is a major contributor to both climate change mitigation and a sustainable and efficient use of resources.

Global challenges such as climate change, population growth and the depletion of natural resources are forcing humanity to rethink its behaviour.

The Commission has recognized this problem and, given the dramatic and rapid extinction of species, as recently indicated in a UN-report, the EESC welcomes the update of the 2012 Bioeconomy Strategy as a major step in the right direction. In the EESC's view, however, additional measures should be taken to help make the strategy more efficient.

Better support for the bioeconomy, particularly SMEs

"We must not lose any more time, we must act now," warned rapporteur Mindaugas Maciulevičius. "The challenge ahead is not only the fight against climate change but also to provide nutrition for a planet that will soon be home to 10 billion people. Sustainability and the careful use of our resources must be the bottom-line of all our policies," said Maciulevičius.  This is supported by Udo Hemmerling, co-rapporteur for the opinion, who stated that "sustainability principles are essential for a 'new' bioeconomy and natural resources have to be conserved in order to keep them productive."

SMEs already play a major role in the bioeconomy, but to increase their contribution, they need better advice and access to finance. The EESC believes that setting up individual and flexible advisory services to help agri-food SMEs launch long-term, innovative projects is essential.

In addition, public-private cooperation could play a major role, since it would enhance efficiency and trigger the exchange of knowledge, expertise and best practices.

In this regard, it is also essential to incorporate research, innovation and bioeconomy activities into a long-term strategy designed to facilitate development and replication.

An economic boost for rural areas

The bioeconomy could help to create and secure jobs and development in rural areas. A special focus must be placed on modern infrastructure and logistics, as they are prerequisites to fostering biomass supply.

Respecting sustainability principles is key for a "new" bioeconomy, and to encourage this, education and support for innovation are of utmost importance.  Furthermore, in order to better promote EU-produced bio-based products, consumers need to be engaged through information campaigns.

Co-ordination and co-operation can increase the bioeconomy's share

"Without upgrading residues, side-streams and waste, and promoting the circular economy, we will neither succeed in the fight against climate change nor in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals", stressed Maciulevičius. "Co-operation across sectors – food, non-food systems and rural areas – and across continents is imperative."

It is also essential to focus better on linking different areas – urban-rural, rural-rural, land-sea – so that they can contribute to sustainable bioeconomy value chains and clusters. Those linkages would particularly help central and eastern Europe. This region is rich in biomass due to extensive activities in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fishery, with high, but under-utilised biomass capacity.

A carbon-price tax for creating a level playing-field on the markets

According to experts' estimates, the bioeconomy can reduce CO2, the main cause of climate change, by 1.2 to 1.5 billion tonnes a year. However, it is essential for it to be competitive.

"We need to eliminate the competitive advantage of imported goods that are cheaper due to lower climate requirements. The EU should engage with other countries on moving towards global carbon pricing, not least by using the purchasing power of 500 million consumers," said Maciulevičius.

"It is essential to support those who are working in the bioeconomy and protect both producers and consumers against goods from abroad that do not meet the sustainable criteria we demand from European producers," concluded Maciulevičius.

Agriculture

Agriculture: Commission publishes list of potential eco-schemes

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The Commission published a list of potential agricultural practices that eco-schemes could support in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Part of the CAP reform currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council, eco-schemes are a new instrument designed to reward farmers who choose to go further in terms of environmental care and climate action. This list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the Green Deal targets. This list also enhances transparency of the process for establishing the Strategic CAP Plans, and provides farmers, administrations, scientists and stakeholders a basis for further discussion on making the best use of this new instrument.

The future CAP will play a crucial role in managing the transition towards a sustainable food system and in supporting European farmers throughout. Eco-schemes will contribute significantly to this transition and to the Green Deal targets. The Commission published the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020. The Commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability. The European Parliament and Council agreed on their negotiating positions on the reform of the CAP on 23 and 21 October 2020, respectively, enabling the start of the trilogues on 10 November 2020. The Commission is determined to play its full role in the CAP trilogue negotiations as an honest broker between the co-legislators and as a driving force for greater sustainability to deliver on the European Green Deal objectives. A factsheet is available online and more information can be found here.

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Agriculture

Farm to Fork: Commission takes action to further reduce the use of dangerous pesticides

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As part of the EU's commitment to make food systems more sustainable and to protect citizens from harmful substances, the European Commission has today decided to withdraw Mancozeb from the EU market. Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: “The protection of citizens and the environment from dangerous chemicals is a priority for the European Commission. Reducing the dependency on chemical pesticides is a key pillar of the Farm to Fork strategy we presented last spring. We cannot accept that pesticides harmful to our health are used in the EU. Member states should now urgently withdraw all authorisations for plant protection products containing Mancozeb”.

Mancozeb is an active substance which is used in a number of pesticides in the EU. The proposal was supported by member states in the Standing Committee on Plants, Animals, Food and Feed in October. It follows the scientific assessment by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) which confirmed health concerns, in particular having a toxic effect on reproduction, and the protection of the environment. Mancozeb also has endocrine disrupting properties for humans and for animals. Member states will now have to withdraw authorizations for all plant protection products containing Mancozeb by June 2021.

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Agriculture

Commission approves €9.3 million Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in primary agricultural sector affected by coronavirus outbreak

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The European Commission has approved an approximately €9.3 million (HRK 70m) Croatian scheme to support enterprises active in certain primary agricultural sectors affected by the coronavirus outbreak. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The public support, which will take the form of direct grants, will be open to breeders of cattle and sow as well as producers of apples, mandarins and potatoes in Croatia. The measure is expected to support more than 6,500 enterprises.  The aim of the scheme is to address the liquidity needs of enterprises that suffered a decrease in sales and to help them to continue their activities during and after the outbreak.

The Commission found that the Croatian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, (i) the aid will not exceed €100,000 per beneficiary, as provided by the Temporary Framework for undertakings in the primary agricultural sector; and (ii) the aid under the scheme can be granted until 30 June 2021. The Commission concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework.

On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under the EU state aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.59815 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.

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