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22 May 2015 / EN

SOCIETAL INNOVATION IN FOOD AND ENERGY The way ahead for regional investments

Conclusions of the Milan External Meeting of the EPP Group in the European Committee of the Regions

  1. A ROBUST, TERRITORIAL DIMENSION TO EUROPE’S FOOD SYSTEMS: Food production needs to connect those who grow, nurture and produce and those who buy, cook and consume. We therefore call on the Member States and the European institutions to restore a strong link between producers and consumers by prioritising support for local production and short marketing chains, as well as underlining the value of regional and local specificities. Besides the economic benefits, this reduction in food miles would also translate to fewer emissions and help Europe to meet its climate change ambitions.
  2. EDUCATION AND BETTER COMMUNICATION FOR HEALTHY AND BALANCED EATING HABITS: In some corners of the European Union more than 7% of the population suffers from chronic calorie deficiency whilst one in three 6-9 year-olds is overweight or obese across the EU. Moreover, in other parts of our Union, the total energy intake is adequate, but the diet remains monotonous and unbalanced, causing serious nutritional deficiencies. As local and regional politicians, we are ready to take up our responsibility to educate citizens, promote and initiate social and educational campaigns in schools on the importance of a healthy, balanced diet, giving priority to local produce and reducing food waste. In order to achieve a promising result, we particularly emphasise that education on health and balanced eating should begin during pregnancy as expectant parents are especially receptive to learning about what is best for their child’s health and well-being. We support the European Parliament’s call for 2016 to be dedicated to the European Year against Food Waste.
  3. INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS TO THE FOOD SYSTEM: We underline that scientific research presents an opportunity to integrate innovation with tradition in the food sector, where many food products are considered as public and cultural patrimony. We call for more research and innovation in this sector in particular for innovative production at local farms, processing and packaging technologies. We ask that Member States support local and organic producers to invest in new food processing technologies in order to increase food safety and safeguard culinary traditions and the economic model of small-scale producers and craftspeople. We need to increase consumer confidence in organic products, remove obstacles to the sustainable development of organic and local production, improve the European Single Market for agrifood and fish products and ensure non-discriminatory competition for farmers and market participants, as this will safeguard a diversified, market-friendly access to food.
  4. FINANCING INNOVATIVE FOOD AND ENERGY SECTOR SMALL AND MEDIUM SIZED ENTERPRISES (SMEs): We reiterate that SMEs are fundamental contributors to growth and employment in our regions and cities and represent the backbone of the EU economy. However, given the difficult access to finance, innovative SMEs that invest in food and clean energy projects need assistance to unlock investment and attract international investors. Therefore, we need to create an environment where as many SMEs as possible, no matter their size, obtain finance from the capital markets and not do rely only on banks. We call for strong synergies to be built between the Cohesion Policy, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, and Horizon 2020’s SME instrument to create entrepreneurial ecosystems. We need to simplify and streamline the procedures for SMEs to access EU funding. We call on food and energy SMEs to make efficient use of the funding available to foster local communities and create new business activity while feeding the planet and providing energy for life.
  5. SMART CITIES AND MODERNISED RURAL AREAS FOR INNOVATIVE LOW-CARBON AND RESOURCE EFFICIENT ECONOMY: Many EU regions and cities have competences and budget to invest in innovation, in particular by designing and implementing smart specialisation strategies. We highlight the need to reinforce the links between different sectors related to food and energy, such as forestry, marine resources, water, waste, agriculture, climate change, and land use aspects, as all of them play a crucial part in delivering green economy. Innovative local production of food and energy not only creates new jobs locally and new hi-tech skills but can also prevent depopulation flows or excessive urban demographic pressure. We want stronger links between local producers, consumers and territories of origin as local production-local consumption benefits economic and social growth/development of our regions. At the same time, we would stress that it is crucial to ensure that the growing success of organic production does not lead to weaker controls and incorrect interpretation of standard protection rules.
  6. EU REGIONS AND CITIES PROMOTING SUSTAINABLE SOCIETIES: Our world is changing fast due to societal, economic and environmental challenges. Demographic growth, geopolitical shifts, climate change together with rapid technological progress pushes us towards reorganising our societies in a more sustainable way. The EU regions and cities join their forces to improve the quality of life of all the European citizens, foster local economic growth preserving biodiversity, mitigate and adapt to climate change by designing forward-looking food and clean energy production and consumption models. We welcome the fact that the Expo 2015 on “Feeding the planet. Energy for Life” coincides with the European Year of Development, and the target implementation date of the eight Millennium Development Goals, as regards eradicating poverty and hunger and ensuring environmental sustainability.
  7. TOWARDS AN INTELLIGENT ENERGY TRANSFORMATION: As elected representatives providing services to the citizens, we play a key role in developing smart approaches to meet the energy and climate 2030 targets shaping societies of the future. Within our scope of responsibilities we actively contribute to the energy transformation by fostering smart buildings, providing green public lighting system, climate-and-environmentally friendly transport or efficient water and waste services. We need further research and innovation into energy efficiency, especially in terms of upgrading and modernising energy infrastructure, creating smart grids at local and regional level, that intelligently connect producers, consumers and prosumers – those that do both. We call for a spread of small scale energy production and its efficient integration into the distribution grids. We call for a new technological and organisational system of energy production, distribution and consumption that would guarantee sustainable, affordable, competitive and secure energy supply for citizens, communities and businesses.
  8. PROMOTING AND DISSEMINATING GOOD PRACTICES: We are committed to supporting and communicating regional and local best practices of innovative processes in food and energy production, distribution and consumption methods. We need to raise awareness and societal acceptance by providing dietary education and encouraging good habits using energy and other resources more efficiently. We strongly support the relevant request included in the Milan Charter, to identify best practices in public policy that meet regional and local requirements seeking to foster the development of safe and well-functioning food production and distribution systems as well as sustainable energy models for the management of public services and eco-business oriented public projects.