Innovation in EU agriculture - European Union Committee Contents


Preparatory work and launch of EIP

Over the last months, the European Commission has initiated an internal reflection to define i.a. the objectives, key components and governance of the future European Innovation Partnership (EIP) 'agricultural productivity and sustainability', while ensuring coherence with other EIPs. It intends to involve the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR), farm organisations, environmental NGOs and Member States into these reflections during the coming months before finalising the EIP implementation plan.

The official launch of the agricultural EIP, will be followed by the establishment of a High Level Steering Group which will be tasked with identifying, prioritising and selecting the areas that will most benefit from a partnership approach, and deliver productive, sustainable agriculture through innovation. This will be followed by a presentation of the EIP to the Parliament and the Council.

EIP membership

The partnership would mobilise and bring together all actors around a common target—from those conducting basic and applied research, all the way to the final user like farmers and businesses, including every step in between. This would require overcoming barriers resulting from a traditional 'division of labour', be it across geographical borders or areas of competence.

The partnership should provide these actors with a forum, in which they can indentify, develop and test innovative solutions and ensure the smoothest possible transition from conception to implementation. In addition to these stakeholders, it will involve Programming Authorities, the SCAR, and the Commission.

An important part of the governance structure of the EIP would be the setting up of a high-level steering group with a direct link to the political level (e.g. Council, European Parliament, region) and a balanced representation of private stakeholders (e.g. farmers, researchers, environmentalists, consumers).

Whilst it is important to have all major players on board, it is equally important to keep the steering group manageable and 'light', ensuring that it can work as efficiently as possible. The steering group should, therefore, have an upper limit as regards the number of members in total as well as per category of stakeholders.

Role of EIP in fast-track regulation

The main role of the possible future EIP 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' would be to look at the whole innovation cycle from R&D all the way to products or services on the market and enhance the effectiveness and the integration of innovation instruments. In this respect it will rely mainly on existing instruments, rather than creating new ones. It will look at actions provided by the Rural Development Policy and the Research Framework. These may include cooperation, pilot-projects, knowledge transfer, advisory services, and dissemination. It is anticipated that the creation of a functioning network will fill the current gap between farmers, rural enterprises, and advisors, on the one hand, and science on the other to allow the sector to take full advantage of innovation to produce more with less. It will improve co-ordination between actors and facilitate the use of opportunities provided by the different policy fields (Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), EU Research Policy).

Bottlenecks that stop ideas reaching the market

The possible future EIP 'Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability' will seek to overcome obstacles to innovation in the sector, and may include (in addition to those already mentioned in the reply to the first questionnaire of the House of Lords):

·  In spite of valuable outcomes of agricultural research and the interest of farmers in innovation, research results often remain on the shelf, and instruments for testing and applying innovation are not used. The main problem is the insufficient information flow and missing links between different actors (farmers, advisers, enterprises, and researchers).

·  Agricultural research across the EU is fragmented, as more than 90% of agricultural research takes place at Member State level. Interesting results and innovative concepts often do not gain sufficient attention due to limited exchange on research activities.

·  Farmers' Unions level the criticism that most research projects are related to questions of policy support or conceptual work. They argue that it is necessary to give more emphasis to projects addressing directly farmers' practical needs. A better linkage of research actors in an agricultural innovation and knowledge system at European, National and Regional level could target innovation needs with research investments.

·  The EU has consistently endorsed actions to integrate environmental concerns into European policies and to develop respective EU policy guidelines. EU agriculture is subject to a comprehensive regulatory framework related to environmental issues.[289] In spite of the importance of agricultural land and its functions, soil problems have not received sufficient attention. Thus, action is needed on sustainable land management—the High Level Steering Group may find that the EIP is a suitable way of addressing this.

·  Current Rural Development Policy offers measures for co-operation. However, the measures are not offered in all programmes and uptake is low. One of the reasons, beyond lacking information, hindering the use of these measures is the current inflexibility concerning the involvement of actors other than farmers (e.g. industry and researchers).

·  The current policy framework does not sufficiently facilitate the implementation of pilot projects. Pilot projects have a particularly important role for innovation as they are meant to support the development of knowledge, to check whether innovative ideas suggested by research results are applicable to practice and can be adapted to local circumstances. Evidently, the risk of failure for pilot projects is high and, therefore, pilot projects need special attention and promotion within programming.

Building a bridge between farmers, businesses, advisory services and research

See reply to question 2.

Innovation in the "pre-EIP period"

The Rural Development Policy currently foresees a wide range of actions fostering innovation in the farm and forestry sectors: Actions concerning co-operation and clustering involve farmers, advisers, researchers, and administrations in view of bridging the gap between research and practice and spreading knowledge over successful approaches. Pilot projects can help transfer research results into practice, considering regionally different structures and natural circumstances. Networking and knowledge transfer promote the dissemination of innovative approaches. In addition the CAP provides for a Farm Advisory System (FAS), established to help farmers better cope with cross-compliance requirements.

However, it is certainly correct to state that more needs to be done in view of bringing research results faster to application and developing a research agenda corresponding to needs: The FAS has not yet been applied in all Member States and the actual application of innovation-related Rural Development measures may fall short of programme priorities identified by Member States and regions. Within a general overhaul of Rural Development Policy, attention would be given also to facilitating the uptake of measures by operational groups. Furthermore, the effective application of innovation measures under the EU Research Policy will be a matter of intensive reflection.

In this respect, the EIP will bring a more systematic approach, at all levels, of steering, and animating innovation measures.

Future EU research policy—Weaknesses/strengths of European Research Area

Simplifying the management and accessibility of the framework programme for research and development has been the object of specific actions by the Commission. It is in the Commission objectives that lessons learnt from the implementation of FP 7 be utilised for the design of the next programme through which research and innovation will be funded—the Common Strategic Framework for Research and Innovation funding. In February 2011 the European Commission launched a consultation on major improvements to EU research and innovation funding to make participation easier, increase scientific and economic impact and improve value for money. The proposed "Common Strategic Framework", set out in a Green Paper, would cover the current Framework Programme for Research (FP7), the Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme (CIP) and the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT). This will create a coherent set of instruments, along the whole "innovation chain" starting from basic research, culminating in bringing innovative products and services to market, and also supporting non-technological innovation, for example in design and marketing. The Commission's Green Paper also provides the basis for far-reaching simplification of procedures and rules. The changes aim to maximise the contribution of EU research and innovation funding to the Innovation Union and the Europe 2020 Strategy. Stakeholders have until 20 May 2011 to respond.

With such tools as ERA-Nets, the EU research programme has proven able to deliver new value added of research at national and EU levels by fostering coordination of national and EU research efforts to allow better targeting at a low budget and "administrative" cost.

In the agricultural field, several ERA-Nets improve coordination in several fields (e.g. for the FP 7: ARIMNET: agricultural research in the Mediterranean region; EMIDA: research on infectious livestock diseases; ETB-PRO: cooperation of biotech SMEs; ICT-AGRI: ICT and robotics in agriculture; RURAGRI: relationships between rural areas and agriculture in Europe). The SCAR whose mandate is to advise the Commission and the Member States on the coordination of agricultural research in Europe generates Collaborative Working Groups (CWG) on topics deemed of high importance, of which some have become ERA-Nets in a later phase

Work of Standing Committee on Agricultural Research

The collaborative working group on Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Systems (CWG-AKIS), set up under the initiative of France and the Netherlands, started to operate beginning of 2010 with a work plan extending until the end of 2011. The CWG-AKIS aims to foster the links between research in the agricultural field and implementation of this knowledge through agricultural innovations. This has never been an easy task for a number of reasons. Yet in recent years, the needs for proper interactions between the research and agricultural areas have become even more important, given the new challenges that European agriculture has to face (climate change, environmental policies, etc.). Moreover this CWG takes place at the time when the reform of the CAP is being discussed. Therefore, the subject of CWG-AKIS turns out to be an extremely timely topic to be embraced by the SCAR.

The AKIS-CWG will allow to take stock of the existing AKIS set-ups in the various Member States and to come up with recommendations that could be taken up at the level of the individual Member States, but also at the EU level within the CAP reform process.

In order to be successful, the agricultural EIP will need to find the right implementing mechanisms for effectively applying the innovations serving the purpose of improving productivity in line with sustainable resource management. The review of AKIS in various Member States and the recommendations for the improvement of their delivery to be produced by the CWG-AKIS will provide a valuable input for designing the agricultural EIP to maximise its capacity to deliver.

European Bio-Economy—Roles EU and Member States; role of farmers

In cooperation with other Commission services, DG RTD is leading the preparations of the Commission Communication "European Strategy and Action Plan towards a sustainable bio-based economy by 2020" to be adopted in November 2011. A number of stakeholder consultations have been carried already, e.g. the Belgian Presidency's high-level conference "Knowledge Based Bio-Economy towards 2020" on 13-14 September 2010. The Commission has just opened an on-line public consultation (22 February 2011),[290] and, with the assistance of external expert groups, is preparing an impact assessment of a possible strategy and action plan. In this context the Commission will analyse ex-ante impacts on society, economy and environment, and skill needs for the future bio-economy. A working group, composed of services of the European Commission related with bio-economy, was launched in late 2010 to assist the preparation of the strategy and action plan and the follow up of its implementation.

The strategy and action plan will aim at offering improved coordination at EU level of public investments, including the Framework Programme, Innovation Partnerships, innovation measures available under Rural Development Policy and the Structural Funds. The Communication will foresee a balanced, coherent, and efficient approach to foster bio-economy and to stimulate private investment. It will underline the need for achieving synergies, while allowing Member States to take their own initiatives according to the principle of subsidiarity. The implementation of the bio-economy strategy will require coordinated actions at EU and MS level.

Linking the world of practical knowledge and know-how of farmers and business with research results and opportunities emerging from technological development is a key to innovation. New combinations of knowledge to improve business models are needed to cope with new market opportunities and responding to demands of society for public goods delivery. In this respect knowledge networks need to complement agricultural advisory systems.

The Commission has taken up the challenge in several research projects (see for instance projects such as,, and a ground-breaking workshop in Angers in 2008 ( which led to the establishment of a SCAR Collaborative Working Group on Agricultural Knowledge and Innovation Systems. The final report on AKIS is expected end of 2011.

The Bio-Economy Communication will build on these approaches and provide complementary options to enlarge farmers' business opportunities.

289   The most important legal acts are: Birds and Habitats Directives; the Water Framework Directive (WFD); the Nitrates Directive and the EU legislation on pesticides. Back

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