Last week, Luc Vanoirbeek was elected to a third term as the European umbrella organization, Copa-Cogeca's chairperson. The freshly elected official is facing perhaps his most challenging term yet. "Firstly, of course, because of the sector's ever-increasing challenges, but new European elections are also coming up. I, thus, certainly don't have to look for things to keep me busy in the coming time," Luc begins.
The VBT's General Secretary was first elected as the Copa-Cogeca working group's chairperson in 2019, which Luc considered a logical progression at the time. "VBT is closely involved in everything fruit and vegetable, so has always been very active in that working group too. Also, looking for partnerships is in our DNA, so it was a natural step. I like committing myself to solving the sector's challenges in these times."
Sales and production challenges
Because that is Copa-Cogeca's primary function. "We firstly get all the organizations from different member countries to meet. Each meeting starts with an outline of the situation in the different countries (cultivation, climatic conditions, harvest expectations). Whether it's Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Greece, or Germany," says Luc.
"Each has its challenges, and you, thus, get a nice overview before taking a closer look at the different topics. Last week, for instance, the regulations around the sustainable use of crop protection products enjoyed plenty of attention, but sustainable packaging solutions and waste were also discussed."
"We consider both the marketing and production sides. Then, of course, challenges - that everyone's well aware of at this point - arise. For example, several members expressed great concern about social changes. Inflation, higher wages, labor availability, and rising raw materials costs," Luc explains.
"Another theme that came up in several countries was the pressure on fruit and vegetable consumption. That's remarkable. Everyone assumes people started eating much healthier after the pandemic. However, inflation has greatly reduced purchasing power, which has resulted in declining post-pandemic consumption."
Normal no longer exists
That hints at the challenges that basically all countries seem to face. But, Luc points out, some problems affect certain countries more than others. "Think about the effects of climate change. That's starting to become genuinely tangible. You hear words like 'extreme' and 'abnormal' a lot. 'Normal' doesn't exist anymore. We hear this from our Dutch and Belgian members, but it's undoubtedly having a major impact on Spain and Italy, too," he says.
"Just look at the floods in Emilia Romagna. You can no longer say the climate is something we must pay attention to in the future. It's a real current problem, making production in several countries increasingly tricky. Everything's uncertain, so people have to be on their toes, trying to find answers constantly. These are the kinds of issues our working group frequently hears."
Copa-Cogeca's, and thus, Vanoirbeek's role is then to find appropriate solutions to these problems. However difficult that may sometimes be. "That's something we constantly discuss. Consider, say, the new plant protection products' sustainable use rules. There's arbitrary talk about a 50% reduction, but, in practice, disease pressure and unpredictability are on the rise," he explains.
"That combination almost certainly spells major trouble. It's up to us to translate those problems to politicians. We're a broad-based working group, so people often listen when Copa-Cogeca takes a stand. We see ourselves as an efficient mouthpiece for the whole agriculture and horticulture sector and hope to be important for that sector's needs."
New European elections
Luc, a fruit and vegetable man to his core, thus enters his third term as chairperson. A term that is most likely one of the busiest since his appointment. "At least the first year. I must get plenty of legislative work done in the next six months. Next February/March is the start of the new European election period. That means much will come to a standstill until a new European Commission and Parliament are established. We, therefore, have to finish everything that's on the shelf now," he says with a smile.
"Also, from next September, networks will have to be rebuilt. As mentioned, the Commission and Parliament are going to change. After which, the idea is to get to know them," Vanoirbeek says, "so we can explain what Copa-Cogeca does. Building new relationships so that together we can face the problems."
"It's a hectic, exciting time, but I'm facing the coming years filled with renewed courage." Whether the passionate Luc will run for a fourth term remains to be seen. "For now, I'm focused on this next term. As long as my health allows, I'll keep going. You're certainly not rid of me yet," he concludes.