March 02nd 2021

MCI Livetalk with Wolfgang Burtscher on the future of European agricultural policy.

Wolfgang Burtscher, Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission as Distinguished Guest Online at the Entrepreneurial School®.


MCI Rector Andreas Altmann in dialogue with Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission. Foto:MCI
MCI Rector Andreas Altmann in dialogue with Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission. Foto:MCI


He is a doctor of law from Vorarlberg and a high-ranking EU official in Brussels for many years: Wolfgang Burtscher has been Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Commission since April 2020 and is one of the people at the controls of shaping European agricultural policy. His professional career has taken him, among other things, to Geneva as a legal advisor to EFTA, as Austria's permanent representative to the EU in the Vorarlberg regional government for European affairs and external relations, and finally, from 2000, to Brussels in the service of the European Commission.

Not least due to the COVID-19 crisis, the importance of European agriculture and thus topics such as self-sufficiency and autonomy have become more relevant. This importance is also reflected in the funds available: with 387 billion euros for 7 years, this department has the largest budget, which must be managed in a targeted and sustainable manner.

For Burtscher, it is clear that "thanks to the work of farmers, we have managed to prevent the COVID-19 crisis from spilling over into a food crisis." In this regard, he emphasizes the original mandate of the common agricultural policy from the European treaties: to provide sufficient food of high quality for Europe at reasonable prices for consumers and to ensure that farmers have a decent standard of living. However for future-oriented development, there is an urgent need for environmental, economic and social sustainability with increased biodiversity and the preservation of farmers' competitiveness.

An agreement on the core agricultural policy elements to achieve these goals, defined by the Commission in 2018, cannot happen fast enough for Wolfgang Burtscher - preferably still under the Portuguese Council Presidency. The central objective is to make European agricultural policy greener: about 40% of the funds are allocated to support measures that take biodiversity and climate change into account, and about 20-30% are allocated to measures that exceed previous ecological requirements for animal welfare and nature conservation. The volume of direct payments for Austria in this respect amounts to almost 700 million euros.

In Austria as well as in Europe food security prevails thanks to the combination of European agricultural production and global trade. However, according to Burtscher, the concept of food security should not be confused with self-sufficiency. Although the latter has shown a good development in the past year with regional production and added local value, it is nevertheless indispensable to consider domestic trade as part of this structure. In this context, production and feed imports are just as essential as the export of domestic overproduction, and always with due regard for the global ecological footprint and with disciplined attention to sustainability.

Wolfgang Burtscher considers it essential also acknowledging the steps that the EU Commission has already outlined in its "from-farm-to-fork" strategy: a reduction of pesticides by 50%, of fertilizer input by 20% and of microbial resistance by 20%. In addition, there is a massive promotion of organic farming (45% of the land by 2030). In return, however, the general appreciation in society for the performance of agricultural production must also increase. At least, according to Eurobarometer, this is higher in Austria than in the rest of Europe. Farmers, however, usually do not like the fact that they are seen as landscape gardeners and not as producers of high-quality food. An increase in income and thus in living standards would be a good development. In the exciting debate about the protection of cultivated landscapes, it is also necessary to define the cultivated areas to be preserved and managed and thus make them eligible for funding.


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Mag. Bettina Stichauner Head Alumni Center +43 512 2070 - 1700
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