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EU farming reform caught in budget stalemate
by Staff Writers
Horsens, Denmark (AFP) June 5, 2012

EU agriculture ministers railed Tuesday against a political stalemate over the bloc's budget, warning that planned reform to ensure funding goes to "green" farmers risks huge delays.

"It's almost certain that we will not be able to implement [the reform] on January 1, 2014," said the British junior farming minister Jim Paice.

Speaking on the sidelines of informal talks with European Union counterparts in Denmark, Paice said it was clear that the bloc's Common Agricultural Policy reform "will not be finally agreed until after we have a budget, in other words well into next year."

EU nations are currently divided on the EU budget, with the biggest contributors to the EU budget who are struggling to make cutbacks amid a recission, wanting to see belt-tightening in Brussels as well.

While Britain, France and Germany, backed by other big states, can agree on this principle, they can't agree how to do it.

The French won't let farm funding -- 40 percent of the EU's some 130-billion-euro annual spending -- fall as governments negotiate a new "financial framework" through until 2020.

But neither will newer EU states, led by rising powerbroker Poland, allow any cut to so-called cohesion grants, intended to even out infrastructure across the expanded EU so as to level out economic performance long-term.

This also accounts for some 40 percent of all EU spending.

Given the stalemate, EU agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos -- a Romanian often considered sympathetic to French demands -- says "other scenarios" must now be studied.

Farmers have famously mounted high-impact demonstrations in Brussels down the years in an effort to protect the aid without which many would crumble given tough price competition with the developing world.

Irish farming minister Simon Coveney, whose country will chair the EU for six months from January 1, is already looking at a special summit of EU leaders to tackle the problem in February.

"We'll have to do whatever is necessary," he said.

As part of wider EU climate action goals also influencing industrial, energy or transport policy, EU ministers want to condition farming aid to applicants who can demonstrate their methods are more environmentally-friendly than before.

Danish farming minister Mette Gjerskov said a "majority" accept the greening goal. "The discussion is not if, but how."

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