EU executive skeptical on newcomers’ farm aid demand

EU

The European Commission poured cold water on calls made by a group of ex-communist EU newcomer states to get the same farm subsidies as the rest of the bloc, saying on Friday, the time was not right to consider the idea.

Under EU accession treaties, agriculture payments are being phased in over a decade for the 10 countries that became EU members in 2004 and another two that acceded in 2007. Annual farm aid for all the EU’s 27 countries is currently worth more than €40 billion. Led by Latvia, the newcomers want that disparity to disappear -- especially at a time when Europe, and the world, are struggling with high food prices. More aid would allow the countries to invest in food production and improve local supply.

That idea has not gone down very well with the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm that administers and regulates farm policy. “This is a question of redistributing support among the member states. That was something negotiated in accession,” one senior Commission official told reporters. “I’m not saying it’s not possible -- but not now.”

The letter, drafted by Latvia, was signed by the leaders of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. It emerged during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, partly to discuss rising food and fuel prices. They said the EU should introduce the changes during negotiations for the so-called “health check” of its Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) where several “old-style” farm protection and support schemes are slated for abolition in a mini-reform. “We don’t think the health check is the right time to do this,” the official said.

Negotiations on the CAP health check are expected to be concluded in November. “Putting it on the table now would lead to nowhere: no decision on this, or on the health check either,” he said. “But it’s a legitimate question for the long run.” (Reuters)

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