Sunday, July 17, 2005

No change to CAP for years - Beckett

British farm minister Margaret Beckett has said that the UK was not expecting an overhaul of agricultural subsidies to come into force before 2014. This is somewhat at odds with what Tony Blair has been saying, but came after Mrs Beckett faced a rough ride in the European Parliament. She was heckled and after she failed to elaborate British plans to reform the CAP, some MEPs walked out in protest.

Farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel recently questioned whether Britain's reason for putting the CAP reform issue back on the bargaining table was 'just a gimmick or game plating.' Certainly the UK has failed to explain what kind of farm reform it envisaged, suggesting that little forethought was given to the call for further reform.

The UK is sensitive to accusations that its stance over the budget is damaging to new member states because delay would restrict their access to EU funds. UK officials argue that, with or without the budget rebate, the UK is paying more for the ten newcomers than France.

Asked why they did not oppose the 2002 Franco-German agreement on farm spending at the time, they claim that doing so would have prompted President Chirac to block EU enlargement.

Not all new member states are concerned about the size of the farm budget. With its sizeable agricultural sector, Poland clearly is. But countries like Estonia would be quite happy to see the CAP share of EU spending reduced.

Some observers assume that the debate on the financial perspectives will now be frozen until Austria takes over the presidency in January 2006.

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