Page last updated at 17:19 GMT, Friday, 28 November 2008

France-UK split over EU farm plan

Farmer sowing cereal crop in Oxfordshire, UK
Farmers in the EU are no longer paid simply to produce more food

France has failed to get unanimous agreement on the future of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) during EU farm ministers' talks in Brussels.

The UK, Sweden and Latvia objected to the final French draft on EU farm policy after 2013.

The CAP farm support scheme is the biggest item of EU spending - absorbing about 55bn euros (45bn) annually - about 40% of the entire EU budget.

The UK has argued strongly for bolder reform of the CAP.

France, the current holder of the EU presidency, finally dropped disputed references to "market stabilisation" and the doctrine of "community preference".

"Market stabilisation" is often taken to mean the traditional EU price guarantees for farmers.

"Community preference" is the system whereby priority is given to EU produce, putting imports to the EU at a disadvantage.

France gets the biggest portion of CAP funding - about 10bn euros annually.

Critics say the French plan would have preserved current levels of farm spending when the CAP comes up for renewal.

The French Agriculture Minister, Michel Barnier, denied that the proposals would limit the scope for negotiation on the CAP budget beyond 2013.

In the absence of unanimous agreement, the final document released on Friday was called "presidency conclusions" - reflecting the views of the French EU presidency, rather than embracing the whole EU.

There was also opposition to increasing EU food aid to the poor in the 27-nation bloc. Britain and others argued that food aid was social policy that should be left to member states, rather than coming out of the farm budget.

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