15.2.2012   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 43/59


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Green Paper on promotion measures and information provision for agricultural products: a reinforced value-added European strategy for promoting the tastes of Europe’COM(2011) 436 final and the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 on information provision and promotion measures for agricultural products on the internal market and in third countries’

COM(2011) 663 final — 2011/0290 (COD)

2012/C 43/13

Rapporteur: Ms Dilyana SLAVOVA

On 14 July 2011, 27 October 2011 and on 29 November 2011 respectively, the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Articles 43(2) and 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the

Green Paper on promotion measures and information provision for agricultural products: a reinforced value-added European strategy for promoting the tastes of Europe

COM(2011) 436 final

and the

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 on information provision and promotion measures for agricultural products on the internal market and in third countries

COM(2011) 663 final.

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee's work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 21 November 2011.

At its 476th plenary session, held on 7 and 8 December 2011 (meeting of 7 December), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 188 votes to 2 with 5 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions and recommendations

1.1

European Union agri-food products are unique in terms of their quality and diversity. However, in an open global market, producing excellent food and drinks is not, by itself, enough to ensure a good market position. By explaining the high quality standards of EU agricultural products to consumers and stimulating exports, information and promotional programmes can help European producers to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive world.

1.2

The current policy on information and promotion for agricultural products has achieved good results but the EESC is convinced that it should be further simplified and improved in order to better respond to the demands of European and world markets, and address the needs of European producers.

1.3

The EESC welcomes the ‘Green Paper on promotion measures and information provision for agricultural products: a reinforced value-added strategy for promoting the tastes of Europe’, and recommends that the promotion policy for agri-food products should become one of the Commission's political priorities over the coming years, on both the internal and the external markets.

1.4

The EESC supports two fundamental aims of the new promotion policy, geared to the target market: consumer information and awareness on the EU market, emphasising the more robust guarantees for labelling, traceability and food safety and the more stringent requirements for the environment, animal welfare and due regard for workers' rights on the one hand, and export promotion on the external market on the other.

1.5

While acknowledging the limitations resulting from the current financial crisis, the EESC considers it absolutely crucial to increase the budget for information provision and promotion measures for agricultural products on the internal market and in third countries. For instance, US funding for the Market Access Program is $200 million annually to fiscal year 2012.

1.6

The EESC recommends that the administrative procedures for preparing and monitoring promotional programmes should be simplified, particularly by reducing the number of reports required by the Commission. It is especially important to reduce administrative burdens.

1.7

The EESC considers that greater transparency in the selection of programmes at national level is essential, and that the Commission should draw up clear guidelines for Member States. The evaluation of programmes should be improved, using a strict evaluation system with concrete indicators such as market increase. The duration of the selection process should be reduced. Moreover, it is crucial that programmes have a European and added value-based vision, including job creation, and that priority be given, through a more favourable financing scheme (providing up to 60 % rather than 50 %), to multi-country programmes that cover a number of products.

1.8

Greater flexibility should be introduced in order to allow programmes to be adapted to changing market conditions during the implementation phase. To this end, the level of detail required when presenting programmes should also be reduced.

1.9

The EESC recommends that the Commission take account of the differences in the capacities of professional organisations in the old and new Member States. Insufficient experience and low capacities restrict new Member States' professional associations' ability to participate fully in the promotion scheme. The EESC recommends that the Commission consider increased advance payments to such organisations (for example 30 % of the annual costs).

1.10

The EESC believes that promotion legislation should clarify the role of brands and the balance between generic promotion and the promotion of a brand, particularly in non-EU countries. With a view to ensuring complete and transparent information, mentioning product origin should be permitted, including for products that have not been granted a denomination of origin or a protected geographical indication.

1.11

Communication and coordination between the Member States and the Commission need to be improved, and also between the Member States themselves. Best practices and know-how should be exchanged at conferences and seminars.

1.12

The EESC welcomes the idea of creating a European platform for exchanging good practices between professionals, which can be a valuable tool for supporting the development of promotional campaigns. An EU-level exchange service (workshops, websites, etc.) available to all parties involved in agri-food information and promotion would be particularly beneficial in the drawing up of well-structured and coordinated ‘multi-country’ programmes.

1.13

Synergies must be created between different on-going promotion programmes. Continuity is essential in order for programmes to achieve their intended impact. It should be possible easily to re-run a successful promotion programme. A genuine active promotion network needs to be created.

1.14

The EESC recommends that the Commission produce a complete and simple ‘handbook’ that could help beneficiaries to comply with the scheme's rules and procedures.

1.15

The promotion policy must support the export activities of EU operators, in particular SMEs, in order to benefit from the growth of consumption in emerging markets. Export activity does not just represent new markets but is also an essential driver for improving the performance of companies. The EESC therefore recommends that the Commission support pilot projects geared towards drawing up export strategies that can provide a framework or a network tailored to companies’ individual export strategies and needs, thus facilitating the penetration of EU agri-food products in these markets.

1.16

The list of products covered by the legislation should be extended to allow for the promotion of all products which deliver the European quality production message or which can strengthen it. A solution should also be found for other products, such as starter cultures.

1.17

The EESC would like to see a strong emphasis on the nutritional benefits of products and on healthy eating/nutrition, by placing EU agri-food produce in a nutritional/health perspective. Initiatives promoting more balanced diets should be introduced. In this respect, the emphasis could be placed on the promotion of key health messages and on product quality.

1.18

The Committee believes that the powers to adopt delegated and implementing acts, as laid down in the Commission's Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 (COM(2011) 663 final), will improve the consistency of the measures for information provision and promotion for agricultural products, and will contribute to their uniform implementation. The EESC recommends that the Commission maintain regular contacts with stakeholders and proposing organisations, and respond adequately to their proposals.

2.   Introduction

2.1

The EU promotion scheme for agri-food products is a horizontal policy covering all agri-food sectors and emphasising the general characteristics and added value of the CAP. It complements private and public promotion efforts at Member State level.

2.2

The European Commission allocates around EUR 50 million per year to supporting campaigns to promote EU agri-food products and production methods. This assistance is normally given to professional producer organisations or associations promoting high-quality, European agri-food approaches.

2.3

Promotional campaigns highlight the quality, nutritional value and safety of EU farm products, and draw attention to the high added value provided by production methods, labelling, animal welfare and respect for the environment, amongst other aspects.

2.4

Campaigns can be implemented inside the EU or beyond its borders with the objective of opening up new markets. Between 2000 and 2010, 458 promotional programmes received EU co-financing and all Member States benefited from the measure. Promotional activities can include advertising campaigns in the media, point-of-sale promotions, participation in exhibitions and fairs, and a range of other activities.

2.5

EU financing covers up to half of the overall campaign costs. The proposing organisation should contribute at least 20 % and the remainder can be provided by national authorities and other sources.

2.6

Programmes should preferably be multiannual and sufficiently extensive to have a significant impact on the target markets. Priority is given to programmes proposed by organisations from several Member States, or covering several Member States or third countries.

2.7

More than two-thirds of all EU agri-food information and promotion campaigns approved in the last five years have been targeted at the internal market. Only 8 % of approved programmes are multi-country, and more than half of all applications in the period 2006-2010 were rejected.

2.8

Since its inception, the promotion scheme has been regularly monitored in Commission reports to the Council and the European Parliament. The European Court of Auditors also made recommendations for its improvement in its Special Report in 2009.

3.   Gist of the Communication

3.1

Despite its major successes, Europe’s agricultural and agri-food sector is facing considerable challenges. The strides made by EU producers in the areas of sanitation, the environment and animal welfare are not always recognised. New competitors have arrived both in traditional markets and emerging EU markets. Finally, the EU has a culinary heritage of great diversity that should be exploited to the full.

3.2

The ongoing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) beyond 2013 aims to ensure that the CAP will feed directly into the Europe 2020 strategy by promoting an agriculture sector which delivers food security, sustainable use of natural resources and more dynamic rural areas. In parallel with the CAP reform, the Commission has launched a wide-ranging stakeholder consultation process with a view to defining the contours of a more targeted and ambitious promotion strategy for the agriculture and food sector in Europe.

3.3

The specific aims for local, European and global markets will be defined at a later stage in order to target more effectively the measures to be taken in each case. The overall aims of the reformed information and promotion policy will include:

exploiting European agricultural production more effectively and consolidating its position on the various markets;

promoting the EU’s very high standards of food safety, the environment and animal welfare and offering consumers better information on the European production model;

introducing consumers to new products and exploiting the diversity of products available in Europe;

raising awareness of quality systems and products with high added value.

3.4

The Green Paper is divided into four parts, discussing and posing questions on various aspects of the information and promotion policy: its added value for Europe; goals and measures for the internal (including local and regional) and for the external markets; as well as more general aspects of content and management approaches.

3.5

The Green Paper emphasises the underexploited potential of regional and local markets. Measures aimed at financing basic services should be available, such as creating commercial centres, shops or markets. A better integrated LEADER tool after 2013 could play a significant role in promoting short distribution channels.

3.6

Cooperation between Member States could be supported in order to create complementarity with information and promotion campaigns carried out by Member States and/or the private sector and to encourage synergies.

3.7

At present, proposals can be submitted by professional or inter-professional organisations representing the relevant sectors in one or more Member States or at European level. The Green Paper proposes the possibility of extending funding access to structures other than professional organisations, such as companies or chambers of commerce, in order to include sectors that are not necessarily structured through professional organisations in all Member States.

3.8

Programmes currently relate to specific products or quality systems (e.g.: information on milk and its nutritional qualities). The Green Paper proposes a new, more flexible and possibly more incisive approach focusing initially on key messages at European level and then breaking them down and illustrating them with products that demonstrate the diversity, richness and complementarity of European produce.

3.9

The Green Paper underlines that the measures should be implemented through simple procedures. The selection process is two-fold (Member States and European Commission) and extensive (seven months between the deadline for submission and the Commission’s decision), which limits the possibilities for developing pragmatic and reactive campaigns.

3.10

The Commission has also presented a Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008, in order to align it with Articles 290 and 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The proposal outlines the powers of the Commission to adopt delegated and implementing acts under Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 and establishes the corresponding procedure for the adoption of these acts. It also incorporates into Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 some of the powers that have so far been exercised by the Commission.

4.   General comments

4.1

The main challenges facing the European agricultural policy relate to climate change, the financial and economic crisis, inequality between old and new EU Member States and the tensions arising from unfair competition between them; the conditions for the dumping of prices generated by the application of the CAP; job insecurity and unstable markets with large fluctuations. In view of these challenges, it is increasingly important to promote EU agri-food products in order to help establish them as high added value products and maintain the EU's leading position as a food supplier.

4.2

EU promotion policy highlights the advantages of European production, especially in terms of quality, hygiene and food safety, by means of an advanced labelling and traceability system, combined with respect for workers' rights, animal welfare and the environment. This requires consistent financial support.

4.3

The agri-food chain complies with high standards of food safety, plant and animal health, animal welfare and environmental protection. Communication and promotion campaigns are an efficient and effective way to recognise efforts made by farmers, manufacturers and traders. The promotion policy should therefore have two basic aims in this regard:

promoting and selling European agri-food products on the external markets (export promotion, especially for SMEs, as they provide the driving force for economic recovery in the sector);

informing consumers in the EU market, particularly about specific regimes for quality, safety and traceability, nutritional values, respect for the environment, animal welfare, working conditions etc. In particular, the policy should be aimed at raising consumer awareness, starting at school, in an approach based on responsible consumption, and at fostering recognition of the efforts made by agri-food producers – farmers and industry – to meet the EU's high standards (1).

4.4

Promotion policy should also make use of new forms of media, such as web pages, to inform consumers about initiatives by local producers and about access to products sold directly. Developing ‘short chains’ would certainly meet one of society's new expectations.

4.5

The Court of Auditors has recommended providing targeted technical support to producers through:

increased synergies between producers and programmes. EU measures should encourage small and medium-sized enterprises to join forces so that they can reach a critical mass for trading on the external market. The development of networks could help to achieve this aim and support the creation of synergies between producers at EU level;

assistance to new Member States by extending eligible measures to include exploratory work (e.g. one-year trial campaigns or market studies).

4.6

Regarding the Commission's proposal to broaden the range of beneficiaries of promotional programmes, the EESC considers that priority should be given to professional organisations as it is they who bring businesses together and co-finance operations.

4.7

The EESC considers that certain traditional products, brands or indications of origin could open up markets for further European products, particularly on external markets. The European character of products in promotional programmes submitted by professional and/or inter-professional organisations could be emphasised without requiring them to remove the indications of origin or brands, while ensuring that the European message is clearly more prominent than the brand. With a view to ensuring complete and transparent information, mentioning product origin should be permitted, including for products that have not been granted a denomination of origin or a protected geographical indication.

4.8

In accordance with Articles 290 and 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the Commission will have greater responsibilities. The Committee believes that the powers to adopt delegated and implementing acts, as laid down in the Commission's Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Council Regulation (EC) No 3/2008 (COM(2011) 663 final), will improve the consistency of the measures for information provision and promotion for agricultural products, and will contribute to their uniform implementation. The EESC recommends that the Commission maintain regular contacts with stakeholders and proposing organisations and respond adequately to their proposals with a view to simplified and smooth processing of information provision and promotion measures for agri-food products on the internal market and in third countries.

5.   Specific comments

5.1

The EESC proposes that the Commission recognise EU sector organisations as proposing organisations.

5.2

Promotion of EU agricultural products in third countries would help EU farmers and processors to access large markets such as Brazil, Russia, China, India, North America, Australia and the Middle East, among others. A well-targeted EU promotion policy in third countries could result in a dramatic increase of sales of EU agri-food products outside the EU.

5.3

The prosperity of overseas markets in 2010 is a key factor in determining opportunities for EU businesses.

5.4

In order to strengthen its competitive position, the EESC proposes that the Commission:

support the opening and development of markets – particularly connected with the negotiation of international agreements – so that European producers have more opportunity to export their products;

facilitate the resolution of export issues and assist exporters through information provision and a possible ‘umbrella’ or EU thematic generic activity.

5.5

In order to optimise the European Union’s intervention on the external market, the EESC recommends:

providing relevant export data, country and contacts information, export guidance etc. to retailers and wholesalers;

encouraging export promotion of complimentary products, and encourage cross-sector cooperation for increased weight and efficiency;

encouraging small and medium-sized enterprises to join forces so that they can reach a critical mass for trading on the external market;

supporting pilot projects in third countries aimed at penetrating new markets.

5.6

The EESC urges the Commission to provide support during and after health crises to sectors in difficulty in order to re-establish confidence and boost consumption. Dynamic and swift ad hoc information and communication campaigns can be very helpful in re-establishing consumer confidence.

5.7

The EESC considers that branch organisations which have successfully implemented promotional programmes should be given the opportunity to apply as beneficiary organisations and implementing bodies according to a facilitated procedure.

5.8

The EESC calls upon the Commission to launch events/campaigns to further encourage branch organisations from EU member states to apply more actively for promotional programmes outside the EU, in order to present the best of the taste, traditions and quality of EU agri-food products. In this regard, priority should be given to multi-country programmes that cover a number of products through a more favourable financing scheme (providing up to 60 % rather than 50 %), because it is these products that will give the programme a truly European dimension and which will also require the EU's support. Moreover, priority should be given to countries according to their market potential. The EESC suggests that the Commission could increase its contribution in the case of programmes in emerging economies.

5.9

The EESC recommends that the Commission play a key role as a facilitator and supporter for small EU producers and processors in terms of their access to third-country markets.

5.10

Internal market programmes must have a European and added value-based vision that looks beyond the purely national: the greater the scope in terms of products and markets, the better the programme. In addition, programmes must be complementary, or create synergies, with other national or regional programmes, in order to avoid duplication of action or contradictory messages. The potential of the educational and health fields can and must be tapped in order to enhance the effectiveness of information measures. Finally, the impact on employment levels should be considered in the design and implementation of the future promotion and information policy for agri-food products.

Brussels, 7 December 2011.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Staffan NILSSON


(1)  OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 114 and OJ C 218, 23.7.2011, p. 118.