General Assembly of ECPA
20 November 2019
Speech Géraldine Kutas
Good afternoon to all of you,
First of all, thank you very much for making the effort to travel to Brussels to be here today. This is my first General Assembly as Director-General of ECPA and it’s an unique occasion to get acquainted with all our members. It’s also the right moment to look back in the mirror and take stock of what the association has achieved so far and what our future plans are. So thanks again for your presence, I sincerely appreciate it.
I’ll be honest with you, I am very proud to be leading this remarkable organisation – it has only been a couple of months since I’ve started but I am impressed by the expertise and knowledge this sector has to offer and I am eager to continue to position the association as an open, constructive and credible partner in Brussels where talks about sustainable agriculture are taking place.
Before I tell you about the key achievements we secured in 2019 and about what I feel should be the priorities for 2020, I would like to tell you a few things about myself and what attracted me to this sector.
I am a committed European citizen and European professional. It is deeply rooted in my family background: my grandparents came from different countries in Central-Eastern Europe and from France where I was born, and I have had the chance to live in 5 different European countries. I know what united in diversity means and I cherish living in a bloc where the free circulation of goods but also people and ideas is the norm.
I have also been fortunate enough to work in different parts of the world (the US, Central-America, Asia) and those that know me well say that I am a Brazilian and not French at heart. And this allows me to put our EU debate into perspective.
I studied at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC and have a Ph.D. in International Economics from Sciences-Po Paris. And my career has largely evolved around agriculture with my latest engagement with the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry association where I spent the last 12 years. In my previous role, I restored the reputation of the sector that was largely associated with massive deforestation, child labour and slave labour. In that position, I had observed ECPA from afar and noticed the positive messaging and image that the industry was creating with its WithOrWithout campaign, its engagement to defend a scientific decision-making process and more recently, its pro-activity in the debate on GFL. It resonated a lot with my own experience. And when the call came from the head-hunter -I was intrigued and really excited. An amazing opportunity and a great challenge at the same time. That’s just the way I like it .
I have just started my journey with your industry and I’d like to thank you very much for all the support I have received so far, from our member companies but also from our great team at ECPA. I have been chosen because I bring a fresh and different approach to the current debate, and I am fully committed to earn the seat that ECPA deserves in the discussions on the future of the European agriculture.
But this work started well before I joined ECPA. In 2019, our association undertook an enormous amount of work on behalf of the industry. And I want to thank my predecessor, Jean Phillipe as well as the whole team for their tireless efforts during what has been a very challenging year.
Unfortunately, some of our colleagues left us over the last 6 months, but now with almost everybody in place we are ready for what the new EU mandate will bring. And there is plenty to work on.
The election of the new European Parliament in May completely changes the environment we are operating in. For the first time ever since the Parliament has been directly elected, the two main political groups, EPP and S&D, don’t have the majority of the seats. It means that there is no formal grand coalition anymore and this will force unpredictable alliances with different parties depending on the topic.
On the other hand, the European Parliament has never been so green. Not only green MEPs have increased their number of seats but members from other groups clearly have a green agenda. With 76 members, the Environment committee is today the largest committee of the Parliament, clearly reflecting the concerns of EU citizens with environmental issues.
The European Parliament forced the designated-president of the European Commission, Mrs Van der Leyen, to present a green agenda and to set ambitious climate targets in order to get the approval from MEPs.
She announced the goal to make Europe climate neutral by 2050 and she has the support of key member states, such as the ones from Western Europe, to push this agenda. France and Germany are very active in convincing their counterparts from Central-Eastern Europe to back this target in exchange for financial support for the transition.
The first milestone will be 2030 and the new Commission announced an EU Green deal to be presented in its first 100 days in office. This overreaching strategy covers many initiatives that will impact our industry in different ways: the farm to fork initiative that will entail a reduction of the use of pesticides, a 2030 biodiversity strategy, a circular economy action plan, an extension of the ETS to other sectors, a clean air and water action plan, a reformed Common Agriculture Policy, etc.
The Commission is feeling very strong about this agenda as it has the support from both the Parliament and many member states, not to mention the back up of civil society.
This is definitely a new and challenging environment we will have to face. But this is also an opportunity for our industry to be more supportive and more pro-active. We absolutely need to be an effective partner in building the future for our industry instead of having policies simply imposed on us. We need to be a reference for sustainable, efficient and innovative agriculture.
My vision for our association includes stepping up our engagement efforts. I want ECPA to become the primary source of knowledge on crop protection. For this we need to provide transparent and credible data and a wide range of information, not only our own positions. We are working towards finding the right solutions to underpin this aim. We are considering adapting our website to be able to host a resource library that will contain this information. We are building in engagement KPIs into our communication campaigns. We are also devising a media relation strategy because we want to start setting the agenda where possible. As the new spokesperson for the association I want to have close relationships with key media and be more proactive than reactive. In summary, we need to be an association that is proposing rather than opposing.
And in that spirit, there are a couple of priority areas that I will be focusing on in the months to come. The first and most important one is to maintain our license to operate. We will keep our engagement on very technical dossiers such as the REFIT of regulations 1107 and 396, MRLs/IT, Bee guidance, microplastic, Drinking Water, implementation of GFL, but also on more strategic pieces such as the farm to fork initiative, the biodiversity strategy and the clean air and water action plans. We will act as one team on these subjects, fully integrating the regulatory, public affairs and communication staff.
However, for our engagement to be successful, it is imperative that we earn societal acceptance. We need to build trust and restore our reputation. It’s a long-term exercise. So be patient and don’t expect results in the next six months. But it’s the pre-condition to maintain our license to operate.
Whether we like it or not, regulatory compliance does not equal societal acceptance today. We must acknowledge it and we must go the extra-mile to gain this acceptance and maintain our products on the market. The new Commission offers us a wonderful opportunity to embrace its agenda and to engage. Many European associations have already done that – the fuel industry, the transport sector, the plastic industry, even some agricultural organisations have taken public commitments.
We can’t stay behind. This is the right moment to act and engage more.
We have wonderful solutions to promote a more sustainable future for European agriculture. Given ECPA’s new mandate for representing natural origin products - ECPA is in a great position to advocate for Integrated Pest Management and for a holistic approach to agriculture, which doesn’t pit one system against another.
None of this can be achieved without a strong network across national member states. More than ever, we need to be fully coordinated to act at the EU but also at the national level. We learnt many lessons during the GFL process. If we are fully aligned and coordinated, we can achieve better results. For this reason, ExCo asked me to work on a more inclusive and impactful EAN and to strengthen our vertical alignment. It means that we will establish common EU priorities, align our strategies but also pool some of our non-financial resources to make sure that national associations get access to the key skills they need to work on the identified priorities. Corporate members will also be involved in this process and this will facilitate the internal alignment of companies. I am convinced that this new way of organising ourselves will make us stronger. The first task ExCo gave me was to draft an action plan, that was developed with the participation of representatives from some national associations and from the companies. I am happy to announce that it has been approved this morning and we will start implementing it as of next month.
Dear colleagues, we have a very challenging year ahead of us but also many opportunities to become a credible and trusted partner. We can’t continue doing things as we did for the last 20 years because it’s simply not working anymore. I know how painful it is to admit that science is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to approve regulation. But this is the reality and if we want to win societal acceptance, we need to think – and act – outside the box. Other industries went through the same situation and they successfully reinvented themselves. There is no reason for us not to do the same.
Mobilisation from the whole industry is key to reach our goals. Your presence here today is a very encouraging sign. ECPA needs the vibrant energy of its members. But, we must also be ready to accept changes and I am asking your ideas and your support to embrace these changes. With your help and endorsement, I am very confident of our abilities to tackle all of these issues proactively and positively.
Once again, thank you very much for your trust in ECPA and for being present today.