EU farm aid plan meets with opposition from candidate states

EU farm aid plan meets with opposition from candidate states

The European Commission this week unveiled a long-term farm aid plan according to which newly accepted EU members from Central and Eastern Europe would have only restricted access to the bloc's agricultural subsidies. During their first two years in the EU, new members would receive only 25% of what farmers in current EU member states get. After 2006 this amount would rise to 35% , and then gradually increase up to 100% by 2013. Predictably, the proposal met with opposition from candidate countries. Hugo Roldan is spokesman for the Czech agriculture ministry. By Daniela Lazarova.

The main argument which the EU presented to justify its proposal was that pumping expensive subsidies into the newcomers' agriculture sectors would have a ruinous impact on the rural economy. The EU enlargement commissioner Gunter Verheugen warned that this could create a vicious circle of low productivity, low standards and hidden unemployment. We asked the Czech Republic's chief EU negotiator Pavel Telicka whether he found this argument acceptable.

"No, I do not accept that argument, because you can find a counter-argument to it in the EU proposal itself. In a different part of the document there is a provision that the candidate states would be able to co-finance the difference between 100 % and X%, be it 25% or whatever, from their own national budgets. So if that is a possibility then I think that the stated argument is really not meant seriously. Because if it were to be meant seriously then the commission would not be proposing something that would have the same effect as the one it is allegedly striving to avoid. My second point is that I don't think the argument applies to all candidate countries. Surely the situation in the Czech agricultural sector is different from that in country A,B or C. The Czech agricultural sector has already undergone restructuring . For those reasons I don't find the stated argument relevant. "

So the EU is simply trying to find a way to shoulder the burden of admitting 10 new members. How much maneuvering space do you think there is?

"We need to take very seriously what the commissioner said and I am sure that it reflects all sorts of views in the member states and it may be that some of the member states are, let us say, "less generous" . The proposal clearly reflects the political and economic situation in some of the member states which obviously has to be taken into account. I would only add that there is also our political and economic situation to be considered - that is the situation of all newcomers. The position of our farmers is also relevant and it has to be competitive. That's our goal. It is not about 100 percent or 95 or 25 percent -it is about a mixture of results on direct payments, rural development, compensation, contribution to the budget, the level of co-financing etc which will have to result in a position which makes our farmers competitive and I think that should also be the goal of the EU."

The Visegrad Group, a loose economic alliance of Central and East European states, is to meet next week to discuss the new EU farm aid scheme and decide whether or not to take a joint stand on it.