EU money set to aid countryside

  • 2001-12-13
  • Tassos Coulalolgou, VILNIUS
Help is in sight for Lithuanian country dwellers following the Lithuanian authorities' assumption of responsibility for the European Union's Special Acces-sion Program for Agriculture and Rural Development on Nov. 30.

The Lithuanian government has spent the last year establishing a SAPARD agency under the Agriculture Ministry which will provide funds to help farmers compete once Lithuania joins the EU and to create alternative forms of employment.

Under the scheme people whose business plans have been approved by the National Payment Agency will have 50 percent of their investments reimbursed - 75 percent of the subsidy from SAPARD funds and 25 percent from the state budget, said Dovile Kirdeikiene, the agency's spokeswoman.

The funds have been earmarked for investment in agricultural holdings, renovation and development of villages and rural heritage, improvement of vocational training in rural communities, development and improvement of rural infrastructure as well as the creation of farm relief and farm development services.

The hope is that SAPARD can offset the risk that investors from the existing EU member states will dispossess rural people of land they only recently recovered from the Soviet state.

Poland, where the issue has sparked fierce debate in recent weeks, has asked for an 18-year transition period and the Lithuanian Peasant Party has called for 7 years.

Currently more than 30 million euros ($26.7 million) have been earmarked annually for SAPARD funding in Lithuania but that number may rise as demand increases and rural people and the Lithuanian authorities gain in experience.

Dec. 21 is the deadline for the first round of applications which can be handed in at any of 10 regional centers where advisers are on hand to help with inquiries.

Currently Bulgaria, Estonia and Slovenia are the only other candidate countries to have reached the stage where management control has been handed over to the appropriate institutions within the countries.

Lithuania hopes to join the EU by 2004.