Fischler on collision course with French over farm reforms

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Series Details Vol 7, No.4, 25.1.01, p6
Publication Date 25/01/2001
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Date: 25/01/01

By Simon Taylor

FARM Commissioner Franz Fischler faces a fierce battle with France over his call for a major overhaul of the Union's agricultural policy next year.

Fischler wants to look at the possibility of cutting subsidies to growers and putting more emphasis on rural development and environmental protection. He told a farming conference in Berlin last week that a planned partial review of agricultural policy planned for 2002 should be expanded to all farm sectors.

But France is adamant that the Union should not make radical changes to the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) until after 2006.

Under the Agenda 2000 budget deal struck by EU leaders in Berlin in 1999, support systems for cereal and oil-seed growers, as well as overall farm spending, will be reviewed in 2002. However, the dairy sector will not be tackled until 2003.

Fischler favours a shift in policy to prepare the EU for future challenges, including a new round of world trade liberalisation talks due to start this year and the imminent entry of new member states from central and eastern Europe. Enlargement will double the number of farmers in the Union, but many of the new arrivals are too small-scale to compete with their counterparts in current EU countries.

In the speech, Fischler questioned why only 10% of the EU's annual h40-billion farm budget is used for rural development programmes when over half of all farmers are part-time. "It is becoming more important for their families to find suitable work in the countryside," he argued.

He also suggested that farmers who use environmentally-friendly practices should receive more assistance. "Why is nature-friendly agriculture no longer supported as it used to be?" he asked.

Commission officials say one of the ideas Fischler is considering includes reviving a plan to ensure that any money not spent on market support could be redirected to rural development projects. The scheme was blocked in 1999 by EU finance ministers, who argued that any savings in farm spending should flow back to national treasuries.

Fischler has already indicated that he wants an overhaul of other agricultural policy areas - including the sugar regime, which was not reformed as part of Agenda 2000.

The Commissioner believes that the CAP needs further changes if the EU is to protect its farm support system against attack in the next round of world trade negotiations.

Fischler also wants extra reforms to prepare for enlargement. Agriculture promises to be one of the most difficult areas in the negotiations, given the large number of uncompetitive farmers in the applicant countries.

He has already tabled one proposal to help deal with the challenge of extending the CAP to small-scale growers by scrapping paperwork for farmers who receive less than h1000 in farm support each year.

Officials say Fischler's chances for deeper reforms won a boost recently after German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for a move away from "industrialised farming".

Farm Commissioner Franz Fischler faces a fierce battle with France over his call for a major overhaul of the Union's agricultural policy in 2002.

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