RIGA - Latvia has joined Poland in suing the European Union for granting lower direct payments to farmers in new-member states in comparison with their old member state counterparts.
According to the Diena daily, this is the first time that Latvia has turned to the European Court of Justice over a case directly involving money that could end up in the pockets of its citizens. If the case is won, Latvian farmers could receive an additional 30 million euros.
The Agriculture Ministry, the co-plaintiff in the case, explained that the size of the loss - projected for the 2004 - 2013 period - was based on amounts that Latvia would not be able to pay so that plant, milk and sugar-beet rates reach 100 percent of European levels.
During EU accession talks, new member states agreed that, during the first year of membership, their farmers would only earn 55 percent of the amount received by old member counterparts in direct payments. Payments levels, however, would gradually level out by 2013.
EU leaders decided last March at the commission's initiative that gradual direct payments would apply not only to agreements reached during membership talks but also to additional payments. Diena specified that those payments would be for milk, sugar beets, nuts and so-called energy plants.
The EU adopted the latest system of direct payments - while involving a gradual system for new member states - after the latter had closed membership talks in the agriculture chapter. And as acceding countries were not yet members, their objections could be ignored.
Poland is now arguing that the agreements on lower payments concerned only a specific list set out during the talks and did not affect payments that could appear later and from which farmers could expect to receive 100 percent of the European average from the start.
Lithuania has also expressed a wish to step in the suit. The largest Baltic country hopes that if the case is won, its farmers could receive an additional 200 million euros before 2014.