Page last updated at 11:54 GMT, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

EU staff to try life on the farm

A Latvian farmer
The EU wants its staff better to understand farmers' problems

EU agriculture staff are to swap suits and laptops for overalls and shovels under a plan to improve policy-making.

Under the programme, officials will be sent into the fields in a bid to get "rural workers and the bureaucrats speaking the same language".

Farmers have often criticised the EU for swamping them with red tape.

The EU's agriculture commissioner, Mariann Fischer-Boel, is expected to announce that all her staff will be sent on the obligatory "farm stays".

She will unveil the "Harvest Experience" programme later on Wednesday.

It is part of the European Commission's plans to simplify and reduce the bureaucratic expense of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP costs about 43bn euros (40bn) annually, or more than 40% of the entire EU budget.

The training programme, including the farm stay, will be introduced from 2010.

"The purpose of this programme is to acquire a better understanding of the practicalities and challenges the sector faces," the commission's project document says.


"This added understanding may lead to policies that connect even better to the practical situation farmers find themselves in and hence contribute to better quality regulation," it adds.

Part of the goal is to train bureaucrats to use simpler language, in order to help farmers spend less time ploughing through paperwork, and more time ploughing their fields.

"The general perception is that Brussels is in a bit of a bubble," said Pekka Pesonen, secretary general of the European farming confederation Copa-Cogeca.

He commended the EU for a "sincere attempt" to improve systems.

However, Gerard Choplin, of the European Farmers Co-ordination group, which is very critical of the CAP, told the AFP news agency that it was a "smokescreen" that avoided addressing the real problems.

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