Prodi gives green light for funds to prop up farmers

  • 2001-06-21
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, on a visit to Estonia on June 17 to 18, congratulated the Estonian government on qualifying for much-needed funds from a new EU agricultural program, the Special Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) and assured Estonians once again that EU membership is imminent.

The program supports the efforts of applicant countries as they prepare for participation in the common agricultural policy and the single market. Money planned to flow into Estonia from the program until 2006 will solve priority problems in related fields.

"The European Commission has given the go-ahead to the Estonian authorities to take over the management of 12.1 million euros ($10.61 million) to help farmers adjust to the challenges of EU membership," said the public relations service of the Estonian delegation of the European Commission.

Latvia will receive over 22 million euros and Lithuania over 30 million euros in financial aid from the program for patching up agricultural problems. Out of a total of 10 countries eligible to receive this support, Slovenia gets the lowest funding of 6.4 million euros and Poland the highest, with 171.6 million euros. Bulgaria is the only country where the national government has already got its hands on SAPARD money; other countries had to settle some minor formalities.

Mart Laar and Romano Prodi admitted their meeting was "human, pleasant and nice" at a joint press conference held on a stuffy afternoon June 18 in a room in the Estonian Foreign Ministry.

It was revealed that Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar had been on a leisurely bicycle ride with Prodi on June 17 in the coastal resort of Parnu.

The official conclusions of a crucial meeting of EU member states in Gothenburg on June 15 clearly state that Estonia may join the EU in 2004, according to Prodi, who came to Estonia directly from Gothenburg.

"The summit looks especially positive after the Irish referendum. The summit shows the enlargement is wanted," said the European Commission president.

"The Gothenburg summit made enlargement irreversible," he continued, echoing the words European Commissioner for Enlargement Gunter Verheugen voiced in the same room barely a month ago.

"The destiny of Estonia depends upon whether it joins the EU or not. And two possible models of further development are Finland and Belarus respectively," Prodi suggested. He also said there is no room for stand-alone national identity in today's world of globalization.

"But we do not want to become a European Soviet Union. If we are told enlargement is slow, I admit it is slow. It's the people who have to make the choices," he said.

Laar stressed that making the accession benefits clear to the public is a primary task for Estonian officials. "Accession after thorough negotiations is the way the Estonian people would accept," said the prime minister.