Organised by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) on 28 February 2019, the public hearing on 'Civil Society in Action: European Bioeconomy Strategy' brought together several representatives of different civil society organisations and institutions.
The participants welcomed the updated version of the European Bioeconomy Strategy, particularly insisting on the notion of sustainability. There was a broad consensus on the need for long-term commitment and a systemic approach. It was stressed that the bioeconomy needs to be driven by research, quality and efficiency. Moreover, the keynote speaker, Waldemar Kütt (EC, DG Research and Innovation), noted that the bioeconomy strategy must ensure a long-term balance between social, environmental and economic gains.
The first panel discussed the European Bioeconomy Strategy from the perspective of forestry and the food sector.
Barna Kovács, from the BIOEAST initiative, regretted the fact that there was no bioeconomy strategy in the CEE countries, which are the biggest producers in terms of resources and their approach is only profit-driven. The CEE countries should be assisted in developing their vision for a viable model that would benefit the region and the EU.
The panellists considered the European Bioeconomy Strategy to be a game changer with regard to economic growth and its job potential as it increases competitiveness, which in turn will also boost research and innovation.
According to Rolf Gehring (European Federation of Building and Woodworkers) who represented the workers' point of view, globalisation and international trade must be taken into account when discussing and implementing the strategy. Since the woodworking sector is the core of the development of rural societies, a social and economic analysis of sector perspectives is requested. Furthermore, the support of Regional Development Funds is necessary.
Wim Haentjens (EC, DG Research and Innovation) referred to food systems as a key part of the bioeconomy. There will be a 70% increase in food demand by 2050, which means that research and innovation will play a major role in developing tomorrow's nutrition and food systems. Food will also play a decisive role in creating new jobs and new markets in Europe.
Finally, for the agriculture sector, Oana Neagu (Copa-Cogeca) noted that the bioeconomy also helps to tackle specific challenges such as attracting young farmers to rural areas (only 11% of farmers are younger than 40), increasing income in the agriculture sector (currently only at 46.5% of the average income in the rest of the economy), fighting climate change, etc.
Furthermore, the bioeconomy helps the agriculture sector to benefit from opportunities like digitalisation, which gives access to innovation and new technologies, new business models with sustainability as the central point, and a better use of local resources.
Cooperatives across the European Union are already implementing bioeconomy-related projects, and are indeed the best actors to do so.
She concluded by saying that the bioeconomy also needs to play a main role in the future CAP.
The second panel focused on how to overcome the obstacles of access to finance and how to stimulate the markets.
For Philippe Mengal (Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking) the main risks of investment in bioeconomy-related projects include difficulties accessing private capital, the strong competition from North America and Asia and the need for a supportive and stable regulatory framework.
There was agreement among participants in the discussion that a supportive regulatory framework but also policy stability are the pre-conditions for investing in bioeconomy projects.
Jácint Horváth (Committee of the Regions, Rapporteur of CoR Opinion) stressed the importance of local and regional actors in the implementation of bioeconomy strategies. Referring to the CoR opinion, he mentioned that 50 regions already have a bioeconomy-related strategy whereas only a few cities have bioeconomy-related priorities and action plans in their policies.
Finally, it is crucial to raise consumer awareness, for instance by using common standards, improving communication and promoting education and training on the topic.
The main findings of the hearing will feed into the EESC opinion on Communication updating the 2010 Bio-economy Strategy.