This week I was very pleased to be back in Greece for some farm visits and a major conference on Agri-business. Greece is a great country, but it is living through some very challenging times. As Greece seeks to rebuild its economy, the government has correctly identified the agri-food sector as a potential area for strong growth and job creation.
Greece has food and drink products of the very highest quality - think of Feta cheese, olive oil, Greek-style yoghurt, Ouzo and much more - but the country has lagged behind other EU member states when it comes to innovating, marketing and exporting. In other words, it has failed to fully take advantage of all it has to offer.
Greece should be - and in some cases already is - a global leader in cheeses, wines, honey and olive oil. The quality of its production is second to none, but not enough people outside Greece know this. During my visit, I observed the excellent facilities at Kourellas, Greece's first organic dairy, and the Alpha Winery. But Greece can do much more - a point I made to Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras when I met him last year. And I reminded him that the Common Agricultural Policy is the platform from which all this has been achieved.
There are some good news stories. For example, in March 2016 the European Investment Bank signed a €15 Million financing agreement with Creta Farms, a leading processed meat and dairy food manufacturer and the biggest pork producer in the country. Creta Farms aims to lead in the global trend towards healthy nutrition, producing innovative products that reinforce the profile of Greek businesses worldwide.
The CAP and other EU funds can do a great deal to support innovation, if properly implemented. The new Greek Rural Development Programme contains a new approach to innovation, knowledge transfer and advisory services, with measures accounting for over 6% of the total budget.
Other EU funds can be useful: for example, Greece should make full use of the CAP's expanded budget for promoting agri-food products. New trade agreements with our global partners offer great new opportunities to export. And in the Commission's 2018-2020 Work Programme for Horizon 2020 - the EU's flagship research and innovation system - there are numerous areas where new projects in food production and sustainable farming can be funded.