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East German farm reform could be model

  • 2002-07-25
BERLIN

European Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler tried to ease German fears July 23 that EU farm policy reform would hurt its ex-communist eastern states and said changes there could serve as a model for aspiring members to the bloc from Eastern Europe, including the Baltic countries.

Fischler, who is touring European capitals to drum up support for proposed reforms to the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP, reiterated that Brussels had no plans to slash direct aid to Germany.

"The European Commission does not plan to take money away from Germany. The funds that are no longer paid directly to farmers will go to supporting farms that grow high quality produce," Fischler said after a meeting with German Agriculture Minister Renate Kuenast. "They will also go to farms with a large number of employees."

Fischler said that success in the reform of agriculture in East Germany, where farms were collective enterprises until communist rule ended in 1990, could set an example for eastern European countries joining the bloc from around 2004.

"The strong ideas for development that are used in east Germany could be applied by the European Union candidate countries from the east."

The proposed reforms to CAP, unveiled by the European Commission — the EU's executive arm — on July 10, are designed to sever the long-standing links between how much farmers produce and the level of direct subsidies they receive.

Instead, farms will receive a single allocation of income support and any direct production subsidies will be conditional on respect for environmental, animal welfare and food safety laws.

Germany is the largest contributor to the EU budget, around 40 percent of which — some 40 billion euros a year — is swallowed up by the CAP.

Berlin, which has led calls to slim down farm aid to help pay for enlargement of the 15-nation bloc, has generally welcomed the plans but expressed concern that large farms in poorer eastern Germany could be penalized by the changes.