Page last updated at 15:14 GMT, Tuesday, 14 February 2012

MEPs' warning over food aid scheme

MEPs have welcomed a decision to extend the EU's free food scheme by a further two years - but some have warned they will fight for it to continue even longer.

The scheme was set up in 1987, as part of the Common Agricultural Policy, to provide free food for the poorest citizens in the EU.

However in April 2011, the European Court of Justice ruled that the scheme ran counter to the EU's single market laws, and banned the EU from purchasing food supplies on the open market.

The ruling followed a threat by Germany to end funding for the scheme as they claimed that buying food supplies from the open market unfairly benefitted French producers.

The court ruled that the scheme should rely solely on the EU's own dwindling food stocks.

The European Commission and many MEPs feared that this would lead to a sharp drop in food aid at a time of rising unemployment.

However following a change of heart by Germany in November 2011, the scheme will run until the end of 2013 with an annual budget ceiling of €500m allowing food supplies to be bought in line with the Court's ruling.

If it is to continue beyond 2013, then its funding supply would need to move from the Common Agricultural Policy to another policy area.

The parliament's lead negotiator on the scheme, Polish centre-right MEP Czeslaw Siekerski, said 18 million people across the EU could benefit from the scheme, especially the homeless and the elderly.

However Belgian socialist Marc Tarabella warned that "the fight starts tomorrow" to ensure that the temporary extension becomes a permanent one.

"The funding is there," he told MEPs. "If we have to move it from the CAP to another are to comply with the court ruling then so be it. But we must keep the scheme going".

The vote on the compromise agreement was passed during the daily voting session on 15 February 2012.

Useful links:

Democracy Live's guide to how the plenary sessions work.

A disclaimer on the use of simultaneous interpretations, on the European Parliament's website.

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