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 Thursday, 23 January, 2003, 14:36 GMT
EU farm shake-up plan saddens Greens
Organic farming
There will be hardly any more cash for organic farming

The planned reforms of farming policy announced by Franz Fischler, the European agriculture commissioner, are far too timid, conservationists say.

Internationally the British Government appears to have lost out in securing major reforms - it hasn't brought home the bacon, just one little chipolata

Phil Rothwell
head of agriculture policy, RSPB
They believe the proposals cast doubt on the viability of a major change in farming planned in the UK.

They also fear some positive parts of the Fischler plan could yet be reversed by other European Union member states.

They describe the plan itself as a significant retreat from proposals made last year.

Need for reform

The key points of the plan put forward by Mr Fischler on behalf of the European Commission include:

  • Breaking the link between production and output - known as decoupling, this means farmers will receive a single payment unconnected with the amount of crops or meat they produce
  • Reducing minimum guaranteed prices for cereals
  • Cutting direct payments to farmers by 1% annually from 2006 to 2012, and diverting the money saved to rural development.

Few member states question the need for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which accounts for almost half of the EU's total spending.

The positive elements have been significantly weakened - there will be hardly any more money for rural development and organic farming

Friends of the Earth statement
Unreformed, it landed Europe with the wine lakes, the beef and butter mountains of overproduction. It paid farmers to go on churning out products whether or not anybody wanted to buy them.

Beyond that, the present CAP does not fit with the World Trade Organisation's approach of reducing subsidies which distort trade.

And the day is coming when the EU will not be able to afford the CAP - the day when 10 new members from central and eastern Europe join the Union. Trying to keep the CAP in its present form with 25 member states would raise a serious risk of bankrupting the EU.

Serious doubts

The UK Government commissioned a report on British agriculture from Sir Donald Curry in the wake of the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Franz Fischler
Fischler's plans go too far for some EU states
His report, published in January 2002, said 755m euros (500m) over three years was needed for reforms, including a shift from intensive food production towards projects that protect the environment.

When the European Commission announced its initial reform proposals in July 2002, conservation groups were optimistic they could be the way to implement Sir Donald's ideas.

But there is now serious doubt about the future of modulation, the system for transferring money from direct production subsidies into rural development and countryside management.

Friends of the Earth was not impressed by Mr Fischler's latest plan. It said in a statement: "The positive elements have been significantly weakened, farm gate prices will be decreased, and there will be hardly any more money for rural development and organic farming."

Small, hesitant step

Phil Rothwell is head of agriculture policy at the UK's Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. He told BBC News Online: "I wonder now whether there will be either the money or the political will to implement the Curry proposals."

"The British Government has done a good job domestically, trying to make the Curry plan a reality and to put farming on a sustainable basis. And it's talked a good game on CAP reform.

"But internationally it appears to have lost out in securing major reforms. It hasn't brought home the bacon, just one little chipolata."

The Fischler reforms - which still have to be debated by member states, some of whom want to leave things largely unchanged - look like a step in the right direction, but a small and hesitant step.

The brave new world of sustainable farming is still a long way off.

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  ON THIS STORY
  European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler
"The result will be a better balanced market"
See also:

25 Oct 02 | Business
30 Oct 02 | Politics
25 Oct 02 | Business
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