Farmers take jam to Brussels to protest sugar fine

  • 2005-11-30
  • By Kairi Kurm
TALLINN - Disgusted with EU sugar policy, the Union of Tartumaa Farmers has announced it would send 5,000 jars of homemade jam to Brussels to prove that it's not only companies who bought sugar prior to EU accession.

"We claim that 42,000 out of 91,000 tons is due to private consumption, and Brussels should not fine the excess sugar in private consumption," said Jaan Sorra, the union's chairman. "We started a nation-wide initiative to gather jam, which would prove to EU officials that Estonians make jam."

The union took umbrage at the EU's agricultural commissioner, Mariann Fischer Boel, who facetiously told a recent press conference in Washington, "Imagine 91,000 tons of sugar in the cellars of housewives!"

The European Union is claiming that Estonia had an excess of 91,000 tons of sugar on the eve of accession in April 2004. Since such stockpiles are against the rules, the country will have to pay some 46 million euros if the companies that imported the sugar fail to get rid of it by Nov. 30. Excess stocks should be either exported or turned into fodder or fuel, but not consumed by Estonians.

The matter has been taken to a European court, where Estonian lawyers will try to prove that most or all of the excess sugar was imported to meet private demand. Estonians, after all, love to make homemade jams and preserves, and there was also a fair amount of panic buying on fears that sugar prices would skyrocket after accession to the EU.

According to research conducted by the Estonian Institute of Economic Research, families fearing price-increases stored about 42,000 tons of sugar, or about 31 kilograms per person. "When rescuers entered flooded Parnu cellars they found lots of sugar bags. Rural people bought a lot of sugar. They were afraid of the price hike," Sorra said. "We are not fighting for the companies."

But the jam, which was collected from families for over a month, is headed for Belgium. The union planned to collect up to 4,000 jars, but as of Nov. 30 they had a little over 1,000 before the final pick up.

The cargo will be taken to the jam exhibition on Dec. 3 in Olustvere Castle and then transported to Brussels in January.

Estonian Veterinary and Food Board told the union that jam could only be distributed if a licensed company had produced it. The board cannot stop the import of 500 jars to Brussels, but will ban the distribution of jam to orphanages and homeless shelters.

Olev Kalda, deputy director general of the Estonian Veterinary and Food Board, believes that demonstration, unlike distribution, would not be a problem.

Sorra does not know for sure if he can pass Belgian customs. "We hope to get to Brussels; the volumes are not large. We do not make anyone taste jam," he said.

The union had planned to distribute the rest of the jars to 2,000 orphans but might have to come up with another alternative. (Jam cannot be distributed to homeless shelters for the same reason.) Thus, the union might have to leave the jars near waste bins.

Sugar was the main article that rose in price after EU accession. The price of sugar increased from 7 kroons (0.45 euros) to 14 euros per kilo. The current EU negotiations might lead to a decrease of sugar prices by 39 percent next year.

Estonia, unlike Latvia and Lithuania, does not have its own sugar production facilties.

Kristiina Ojuland, former minister of foreign affairs, told The Baltic Times recently: "The current EU sugar regulation is a nonsense of the 21st century and should be changed as soon as possible."